Worker protection requires “relentless” pursuit of improvements

  Trumpet| News | 08 October 2018

Businesses must be “relentless” in seeking to improve safety and health management systems, a leading industry conference heard.

Delegates at the Food and Drink Manufacturing Health and Safety Conference, co-organised by IOSH, heard an account from a senior business leader of a workplace fatality and what lessons they learned from it.

Richard Parr, Chief Operating Officer, at Natures Way Foods, said he believed their systems were of a good standard until a contractor was killed on one of their sites in June 2011.

The contractor had been working in a roof void when he sat on some live cables, which had been due to be removed three days later.

He said such fatalities “turn your world upside down”. The firm was fined £170,000 but Richard added: “You can’t put a number on a person’s life.”

Looking at the key things the organisation learned from the incident, Richard said: “We realised that businesses must be relentless in their pursuit for improvement. Before the accident, I would have said our systems were good.

“You are only ever one minute away from your next accident. So, you have never completed your [health and safety] mission. Your processes must be robust and tested. You should never assume anything.”

To be effective, he said health and safety should be fun and engaging, adding that strong leadership is key.

The conference was held at the Nottingham Belfry on 02-03 October.

Giles Hyder, General Manufacturing Operational Policy Lead at the UK Health and Safety Executive, examined some of the key issues in the food and drink sector, including occupational lung disease.

This is one of the key priorities for the Food and Drink Manufacture Health and Safety Forum, of which IOSH’s Food and Drink Industries Group is a member.

Giles said the forum is aiming to see a 10 per cent year-on-year reduction in injuries and ill health over the coming years.

He said that while there are fewer reportable incidents in the sector (three per cent reduction in the 2016-17), a lot of work is still required to make it safer and healthier.

In about 1,000 inspections undertaken in food and drink manufacturing premises between January and April, about half were non-compliant, said Giles, with issues including controlling exposure to flour dust and managing risks of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).

The latter was the focus of a session on the use of exoskeletons. Delegates heard from Boudewijn Wisse, of Laevo, who has developed an exoskeleton which is being used in different industries. He said that it had been designed to provide protection but still allow workers to do their jobs.

Among the organisation using it is G’s Fresh. John Boyle, Head of Health, Safety and Risk at the firm, and Vice-Chair of IOSH’s Food and Drink Industries Group, explored how they have been trialled.

He said: “In our organisation we have people bending over in fields to cut lettuce all day. This is a task that has to be done manually but places severe strain on people.

“We have trialled two exoskeletons and they have had a huge impact. The main thing for me was how comfortable they were and how they felt at the end of the day.”

Mental wellbeing was another theme of the conference, with Martin Power from KP Snacks looking at a programme they have run to keep workers mentally well. Meanwhile, mental health campaigners Jonny Benjamin and Neil Laybourn focused on the topic during their presentation.

Andy Melachrino, Chair of the IOSH Food and Drink Industries Group, said: “Our conference was a real success. We wanted to reflect the changing nature of the workplace. Organisations showed us how they have dealt with challenges in a positive way.”

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