As we enter 2019 the HSE have launched their latest series of safety inspections and will be focusing on food and drink manufacturers.

As part of this, they will be conducting unannounced inspections across over 30 sectors including bakeries, meat production, drinks industries, dairies and fish processing which all fall under their food and drink manufacture focus. If you operate in this area it is therefore crucial to review your compliance systems and make sure you are ready for any inspections and the year ahead.

Why are they doing them and what are they looking for?

These inspections are not entirely new. The HSE’s ‘Recipe for Safety’ initiative started in the 1990s and has helped to more than halve injuries within the industry. However, over 25% of injuries across manufacturing as a whole still happen within the food and drink sector. In addition, the injury rate in food and drink manufacturing is higher than the average for manufacturing as a whole which is why it remains a focus for the HSE.

Between January and March 2019 HSE inspectors will be looking most carefully at two particular areas of concern:

  • Occupational asthma caused by flour dust; and
  • Musculoskeletal disorders caused by repetitive or poorly executed manual handling

It should also be noted that the main causes of fatal injury within food and drink manufacture are; work place transport, falls from height and contact with machinery. It is therefore important to consider a review of your policies and procedures within these areas to ensure your workplace is safe and avoid negative regulator attention.

HSE research has suggested that positive steps by senior management could have prevented around 70% of incidents, which means there is likely to be a heightened focus on the way senior representatives promote health and safety practices within the business.

Why it matters

The HSE have powers to issue enforcement and prohibition notices where they feel there are issues with health and safety compliance. These can cause significant business disruption as well as additional costs in bringing your business into compliance within tight timeframes.

The HSE can prosecute under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 where a company fails to comply with a notice, or where a breach is sufficiently serious. Prosecution can result in unlimited fines for a company and custodial sentences of up to two years for senior management and directors.

Other hidden costs of regulator involvement could include;

  • Loss of production;
  • Absence of key workers due to injury or health;
  • Loss of reputation;
  • Equipment or process damage
  • Use of management time and resources for investigation; and
  • An increase in employers’ liability insurance costs.

It is crucial to remember that there does not need to be an actual illness or injury for there to be a breach of the law and therefore any compliance issues identified by an inspector during a visit could constitute sufficient grounds for enforcement action.

Recently, in December 2018, a bakery in East Yorkshire was prosecuted after exposing workers to flour dust. The HSE found that there was not an effective method in place to control or prevent dust inhalation which led to a number of employees being diagnosed with occupational asthma.

Coopland and Son (Scarborough) Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and were fined £159,080 with an order to pay £4,594 in costs.

Since the investigation the company has spent around £232,000 on dust monitoring, installed local exhaust ventilation, swapped to ‘low dust flour’ and added further compliance support to their team which will have mitigated their sentence, but could have prevented enforcement action all together if implemented sooner.

What steps could you take to ensure compliance?

The 2015 edition of the Recipe For Safety Booklet is the primary publication under the ‘Recipe for Safety’ initiative. It sets out the prioritised health and safety issues across the industry and provides important industry standards and guidance which should be adhered to. There are also a number of specific pages on the HSE website leading to more detailed advice and guidance for individual sectors within food manufacture which should be considered.

It is also worth considering what accreditations and awards you have in place. For example, by striving for a strong BRC Accreditation rating, you could both attain an impressive statistic for promoting your business and tendering for work whilst also helping ensure you have sufficient food safety practices in place.

Finally, it could be beneficial to instruct external experts to consider your existing practices and implementation to identify any high risk areas or missed opportunities with an audit or gap analysis. Even where you already have an internal team, it can be beneficial to use a fresh pair of eyes and have an independent assessment carried out to supplement your existing strategies and ensure confidence in your procedures.