A Recipe for Disaster: The Top Occupational Health Hazards in the Food Industry

08th July 2021

The food processing industry accounts for billions of pounds within the British economy. Thousands of workers are required to uphold the high standards and regulations required to achieve food safety. To maintain worker safety, whilst ensuring that all good is created to the required standards, many safety measures must be observed.

Every year 19,000 workers within the food and beverage manufacturing industry suffer from ill health that is either caused by or worsened by work. That’s nearly 5% of the entire workforce within this industry. Whilst there are occupational hazards and risks in all industries, if you are a business within the industry, it’s important to recognise the specific risks workers are faced with within the food industry specifically.

Statistics show that there are the highest number of cases of stress, depression and anxiety in the food manufacturing industry compared to other manufacturing sectors. Not only this but there are high numbers of occupational asthma within the industry too. Don’t put your staff at unnecessary whisk in your food business. Learn more about the top occupational hazards in the food industry, and the control measures your business can implement within food processing plants to protect both your employees and your business.

Main causes of occupational ill-health in food and drink industries

  • Musculoskeletal Disorders – Work-related upper limb disorders (WRULDs) are prevalent in the food manufacturing industry. In fact, WRULDs account for around 23% of cases of occupational ill-health in food and drink manufacturing. Chronic back pain is a common side effect of repetitive movement and/or awkward postures and lifting.
  • Work-Related Stress – The industry reported the highest number of work-related cases of stress, depression or anxiety compared to other manufacturing sectors as stated above.
  • Occupational Asthma – As much as 33% of food industry compensation cases under the Department of Work and Pensions Industrial Injuries Scheme comes from occupational asthma. These cases are generally related to flour and bakery dust.
  • Dermatitis – Nationally, 10% of all people with dermatitis that is caused or made worse by their work are within the food and drink industry.
  • Noise – Exposure to noise within food and drink industries is common, and under the Control of Noise at Work Regulations act 2005, employers are required to put measures in place to protect their employees.

All statistics above are courtesy of the HSE

What are the most common hazards and how do you control them?

1. Slippery conditions

Naturally, within a food-orientated environment, food and beverage spillages are commonplace. A key hazard food processing workers experience in manufacturing facilities is slipping on wet or food-contaminated floors, which can leave them injured. In order to control this hazard, workers should be provided with anti-slip footwear, spillages should be cleared up promptly, and ensure that walkways are clear, dry and clean at all times.

2. Sharp instruments

Working within the food business, workers are exposed to sharp instruments day in day out. This comes with a whole host of hazards, especially when knives are not stored safely, or maintained correctly. In order to control this hazard, knives should be stored properly when not in use. Moreover, ensure that those using knives and other sharp instruments are provided with protective clothing such as a forearm guard/glove for the non-knife hand.

3. Lifting, repetitive work and work posture injuries

Within a manufacturing environment, particularly in terms of the food industry, the body is put under high stress and demand. From cutting and boning meat, packaging products, stacking containers, heavy lifting and pushing wheeled trolleys. This can result in workers suffering from work-related upper limb disorders (WRULDs) and various back injuries. In order to control this hazard, it’s important to recognise the problems that your workers are facing, for example, frequent worker complaints and rest stops, or a reduction in output. From there, you can work with an occupational health provider to put steps in place to manage and control these risks, for example working on the ergonomics of a workstation.

4. Exposure to biological & chemical hazards

Workers within the food industry are exposed to various biological and hazardous chemicals during their time at work, from infectious organisms, working with dust (in flours etc) to disinfectants. These can negatively affect a worker as they may experience respiratory problems, skin conditions or become generally unwell. To control this hazard, you should provide workers with access to properly fitting RPE and barrier creams etc which will help to protect them from exposure to harmful substances.

5. Heat and cold exposure

When working with food, workers will be exposed to conditions that are extremely warm, and those that are very cool. From pasteurisation to working in chillers; the body can go through stress due to this change. It is important that a person is deemed medically fit in order to deal with this changing environment; something an occupational health advisor can help to determine.

How DBOCC can help your business in the food industry

From face fit testing, to health surveillance and health and wellbeing checks, David Barber Occupational Health is here to help you protect your employees and your business. We can work with you to formulate a plan bespoke to your business in the food industry, addressing issues that are specific to your business, your employees and your industry. To find out more about how we can support your business, please get in touch with our team today!

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