As companies look for ways to further improve workplace safety for their employees, tapping into the expertise of suppliers could provide useful insight
The UK’s food and beverage industry is the country’s single largest manufacturing sector with a turnover of more than £105 billion in 2020 and accounting for almost 20% of total UK manufacturing – that’s more than the automotive and aerospace industries combined. The industry also employees over 430,000 people across every nation and region of the UK. What all the organisations in the industry have in common is a desire to create a safe working environment for employees.
Despite the industry’s best efforts, however, according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), there are more than 5,000 injuries reported each year with 16% of these categorised as “serious injuries”. Aside from the obvious desire to protect workers, these sorts of incidents can prove damaging in both a financial and reputational sense for companies.
As Del Tiwana, Industry Sector Manager at RS Components, points out, food and beverage companies are also facing scrutiny from their customers. “The biggest challenge for the industry is around the audits carried out by the British Retail Consortium (BRC), who focus on food safety.” he says. “We help our customers understand the process, and make sure they put measures in place so there are no surprises when there is a BRC audit.”
In order to achieve high workplace safety, Tiwana explains that there are two key areas of risk that companies in the food and beverage sector need to focus on. “First, there’s the production area and the various machinery that is used there,” Tiwana says. “In addition, there is the individual safety of each employee – what they wear, what products they have to protect themselves while working around the company premises. This has been challenged further with the impact of Covid-19 and how this manifests for how organisations operate their sites safely for employees with social distancing measures.”
"The RS sector team provide customers with a consultative service around the best workplace safety solutions"Del Tiwana, Industry Sector Manager, RS Components
Maintaining safety equipment
With machinery, it’s important to have sensors, guards, emergency cut-offs and signage to help protect workers. It’s vital that all this equipment is well maintained and doing the job it was designed for.
Specific risks that crop up in the food and beverage industry are the amount of dust particles in the air, wet and slippery flooring and potential exposure to chemicals. The HSE points out that flooring, specifically, is a prime example of the type of risk workers face with around 35% of workplace accidents caused by slips and trips.
“Workers need the right footwear, the correct PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and ideally be supported by an overall safety methodology throughout the organisation, such as 5S [a common workplace safety organisation method],” says Tiwana. “It’s also important to have ATEX equipment (equipment that is safe to use in an explosive atmosphere), which is specially designed to be used in potentially hazardous environments.
“For beverage companies, this is particularly important because many well-known soft drinks have a manufacturing process that creates a flammable environment,” he adds. “With ATEX electrical devices these don’t create any form of spark when they are switched on.”
When it comes to this sort of specialised equipment it should go without saying that purchasing approved, branded items is critical, but in some cases, there is an ongoing issue around rogue or maverick spend when it comes to ordering products from non-approved suppliers. “It’s not uncommon for a wide variety of local suppliers to be used, or for individual end users to order products themselves,” explains Tiwana. “This means that the company isn’t getting a joined-up approach and benefiting from the expertise of an approved supplier, or the quality guarantee that is needed with safety equipment.”
Tiwana believes that firstly having a supplier that understands the food and beverage industry and then making use of the expertise is essential when it comes to workplace safety.
“All employees must adhere to the, such as the regulations introduced in 2019 around the PPE products" he explains. “It’s important for companies to work with distributors with a full, traceable supply chain. Both the distributors and manufacturers of those products are accountable. The RS sector team provides customers with a consultative service around the best workplace safety solutions and only sells products that conform to these regulations.”
"A good safety record is what every company in the food and beverage sector wants, it's in their interests to collaborate with experts who can help them achieve that"Del Tiwana, Industry Sector Manager, RS Components
“In the end, a good safety record is what every company in the food and beverage sector wants. It’s in their interests to collaborate with experts who can help them achieve that.”
Ensuring your company has the best workplace safety in place for its staff does not, however, mean that good MRO (Maintenance, Repair & Operations) ordering practice should be ignored. Tiwana recommends that companies should harmonise the brands that they use – a lot of firms use equipment made by dozens of different brands, which can be both costly, and confusing for users.
“We can offer inventory management solutions: RS ensures that stock is available with fast delivery so that when new safety equipment is needed, it can be ordered simply and quickly,” says Tiwana. “This helps reduce time wasted and also the costs to the business.
“If the buyer is wasting time looking around for a piece of equipment either in their own storeroom, or via various non-approved suppliers, they can end up making a rushed decision and either spend too much money or, worse, buy the wrong equipment, which will not offer the level of protection required,” he adds. “By using a supplier like RS, it’s easy to order and we can help guide people to the product they need.”