HSE food manufacturing inspections target the causes of workplace ill-health

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Companies and people working in food manufacturing are being told they must pay closer attention to how they manage workplace health risks or face serious penalties.

The Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) programme of proactive inspections will review health and safety standards in food manufacturing businesses across the country, and the sector is being warned that a programme of unannounced inspections will begin today (2nd January).

The inspections will focus on two of the main causes of ill-health in the sector which are currently occupational asthma from exposure to flour dust in bakeries, cake and biscuit manufacturers and grain mills and musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) – predominantly lower back pain and upper limb disorders from manual handling activities and repetitive tasks across the sector.

The inspection visits come as HSE recently released its Manufacturing sector plan which prioritises the reduction of cases of occupational lung disease and MSDs.

Exposure to flour dust is the UK’s second most common cited cause of occupational asthma. MSDs are the most common type of work-related illness in food manufacturing with handling injuries, accounting for around 20% of reported employee injuries (RIDDOR). HSE insists that such ill-health can be prevented when organisations have proper risk control systems in place.

The inspections will ensure measures are being taken by those responsible to protect workers against health risks and HSE will not hesitate to use enforcement to bring about improvements.

HSE’s head of Manufacturing Sector John Rowe, said: “The food manufacturing sector is made up of over 300,000 workers and its health and safety record needs to improve. This inspection initiative will look to ensure effective management and control of targeted health risks.

HSE is calling on anyone working in the industry to take the time to refresh their knowledge of our advice and guidance, available for free on our website.

Food manufacturing companies should do the right thing by protecting workers’ health; everyone has the right to go home healthy from work.”

COSHH and bakers – key messages

Substances hazardous to health in baking include:

  • flour dust;
  • improver dusts containing enzymes etc;
  • dusts from protein-containing ingredients such as egg, soya;
  • spices, citrus oils and flavour concentrates;
  • cleaning and disinfectant products.

Dermatitis may result from some bakery tasks, and if hands are wet many times a day or for a lot of the time.

Control measures include:

  • careful working to avoid raising clouds of dust;
  • dust extraction;
  • vacuum or wet cleaning;
  • respirator for very dusty tasks;
  • skin checks.

Example: Flour dust

Flour dust can cause asthma when breathed in.

You must reduce exposure to flour dust as far below the WEL of 10 mg/m3 as is reasonably practicable. You normally need to use health surveillance (Check employees health for any adverse effects related to work. May involve checking skin for dermatitis or asking questions about breathing and may need to done by a doctor or nurse.)

Help in finding the right controls is on the Bakers and asthma website (http://www.hse.gov.uk/asthma/bakers.htm). Control information for flour dust appears in the following information sheets available from the COSHH essentials webpage: http://www.hse.gov.uk/coshh/essentials/direct-advice/baking.htm

Employees

Your employer provides equipment to protect your health, such as:

  • dust extraction;
  • personal protective equipment (eg respirator).

You have a duty to use these properly and co-operate with any monitoring and health surveillance.

For advice on preventing and managing musculoskeletal disorders, visit the HSE web page http://www.hse.gov.uk/msd/. Alternatively, contact us about any of the above-mentioned issues, on 07896 016380 or at fiona@eljay.co.uk, and we’ll be happy to help

Contains public sector information published by the Health and Safety Executive and licensed under the Open Government Licence

 

 

Metalworking fluids – ejector seat manufacturer fined £800,000 for failing to protect workers’ health

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Ejector seat manufacturer fined £800,000 for failing to protect workers’ health

A  manufacturer of ejector seats has been fined £800,000 after three workers developed debilitating lung conditions.

Three skilled CNC machine operators developed extrinsic allergic alveolitis after many years of exposure to the mist of working metal fluid. The lung condition, also known as hypersensitivity pneumonitis, is a body’s allergic reaction to breathing in a substance and symptoms include coughing, shortness of breath and joint pain.

Aylesbury Crown Court heard how the workers, who had served with the company for more than 20 years, were exposed to the working metal fluid mist over at least a three-year period. One worker has been so severely affected they have become virtually paralysed by the illness, another will never be able to work with metal working fluids again, a key material in the industry and a third must have special measures in place to ensure he never comes into contact with the substance.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the measures in place within the factory to stop the exposure to workers were inadequate. The fluid is commonly used as a lubricant and coolant in engineering processes. During the process of using the machines the fluid creates a mist, which in this case was breathed in by around 60 workers.

The manufacturer failed to put in place a system of cleaning away the excess fluid or providing extraction to prevent the build-up of the mist. There were also failings in the provision of health surveillance, which should have identified the issue early enough to ensure the company were able to put in place and monitor any appropriate safety measures.

The manufacturer pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act (1974) and Regulation 6(1) of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (as amended) (COSHH) and were fined £ 800 000 and ordered to pay costs of £36 912.36

The HSE said “Companies need to make sure they consider workers’ health just as much as their safety when carrying out risk assessments. The dangers of breathing in metal working fluid are well known within the industry. In this case one worker has had his health permanently and severely damaged, two others have also been affected, all will have to live with their condition for the rest of their lives.”

About metalworking fluids

Metalworking Fluids (MWFs) are neat oils or water-based fluids used during the machining and shaping of metals to provide lubrication and cooling. They are sometimes referred to as suds, coolants, slurry or soap.

The main health risks from working with metalworking fluids

Exposure to metalworking fluids can cause:

  • irritation of the skin or dermatitis; and
  • occupational asthma, bronchitis, irritation of the upper respiratory tract, breathing difficulties or, rarely, a more serious lung disease called extrinsic allergic alveolitis (EAA), which can cause increasingly severe breathing difficulties in recurrent episodes, following repeated exposure.

Fluid and mist from water-mix wash fluids and washing machines used to clean machined components may be hazardous in much the same way as fluid and mist from metalworking machines, and the same principles of risk assessment, prevention and control should be applied.

How harm is caused

Metalworking fluids are mostly applied by continuous jet, spray or hand dispenser and can affect your health:

  • if you inhale the mist generated during machining/shaping operations;
  • through direct contact with unprotected skin, particularly hands, forearms and heads;
  • through cuts and abrasions or other broken skin; and
  • through the mouth if you eat, drink or smoke in work areas, or from poor personal hygiene, eg not washing hands before eating.

Key messages for managing the health risks

Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) requires exposure to metalworking fluids by inhalation, ingestion or skin contact to be prevented where reasonably practicable, or failing that, adequately controlled.

You should:

  • carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment – HSE’s self-assessment questionnaire (http://www.hse.gov.uk/metalworking/questionnaire.pdf) will help you do this;
  • maintain fluid quality and control bacterial contamination of fluids;
  • minimise skin exposure to fluids;
  • prevent or control airborne mists; and
  • where there is exposure to fluid or mist, carry out health surveillance.

To achieve the necessary control and risk reduction, among other actions, you will need to:

  • check and maintain exposure control measures, such as enclosures and local exhaust ventilation;
  • check levels of bacterial contamination using dip slides, or other means of measuring the level of bacterial activity, in both metalworking and associated fluids eg in washing machines, and act on the readings obtained in line with your risk assessment;
  • ensure that, as a minimum, a responsible person carries out the required health surveillance
  • conduct asthma health checks
  • refer anyone affected by exposure to a competent occupational health professional;
  • take prompt action after any diagnosis of ill health to identify the likely cause and ensure it is prevented or adequately controlled; and
  • keep workers informed of all findings.

For more information, visit the HSE web page: http://www.hse.gov.uk/metalworking/index.htm or contact us on 07896 016380 and we’ll be happy to help.

Contains public sector information published by the Health and Safety Executive and licensed under the Open Government Licence