Workers in the food manufacturing industry are injured at a rate of 4.2 per 100 full-time workers, according to the most recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data (PDF).
That averages out to slightly more than one injury for every 25 workers – not good news for food manufacturers with hundreds or even thousands of employees.
The food manufacturing industry's injury rate is more than 15 percent higher than the general manufacturing industry's injury rate of 3.6, and it's more than 35 percent higher than the private industry injury rate of 3.1.
Beverage and tobacco manufacturers fare even worse than their food counterparts, with a 5.2 injury rate.
You may also be surprised to know that other industries that might be perceived to be more dangerous than food and beverage manufacturing actually have lower injury rates. These include building construction (3.2), mining (2.4), and oil and gas extraction (1.2).
And the U.S. isn't alone. In the U.K., food manufacturers experienced the highest number of specified injuries among all manufacturing industries in 2013/2014, and reported injuries at a rate more than double that of the entire manufacturing sector.
The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work sums it up well: “Although food and beverages are processed in a strictly controlled environment to ensure a high standard of hygienic and safe food production, it is not at all a ‘low risk' sector in terms of the safety and health of workers. Food processing operations can be very hazardous!”
So what can be done to help transform the food and beverage industry from a laggard to a leader when it comes to worker safety? Plenty, but let's look at three fundamental things that every food and beverage manufacturer should be doing today.
To begin, don't view safety as a checklist requirement. Make it a companywide mindset and holistic approach that addresses the three Cs: culture (behavior of your company and workers), compliance (formal procedures and processes) and capital (investments in technology).
Recent research has shown that top-performing manufacturers share common best practices surrounding these three elements. They also achieve 5-7 percent higher OEE, 2-4 percent less unscheduled downtime and less than half the injury rate of average performers.
Understanding where you stand in each of these interwoven elements can be difficult. The Safety Maturity Index can help you see where your performance level ranks in each category and help you identify areas for safety program improvement.
The Functional Safety Life Cycle (PDF) should be used as a guide for systematically assessing and mitigating machinery risks. Defined in the ISO 13849, IEC 61508 and 62061 safety standards, the Functional Safety Life Cycle consists of five simple steps:
Sometimes the hardest part of solving a problem is knowing where to start. Fortunately, tools like the Safety Automation Builder software can help you apply best practices and achieve the required safety performance level as you navigate the safety system design process. Pre-engineered Safety Functions design documents also can help ease the design process with a building block approach to incorporating common safety functions.
Also consider how you can use the latest developments in machinery safety technologies to both satisfy safety compliance requirements and improve productivity. The long-standing belief that safety and productivity must compete with each other simply isn't true anymore.
For example, using a drive with a safe speed monitor can keep a machine running at a safe speed while the adjustments are made and viewed in real-time.
This can be far more efficient than repeatedly stopping and starting a machine to make adjustments. Integrated safety products that combine motion, process, machine and safety controls all into one processor also can speed up troubleshooting and reduce your mean time to repair.
Rockwell Automation has put together its most comprehensive guide to date for machine safety in the food and beverage industry.
It addresses these three areas of focus, and provides a detailed breakdown on key safety considerations for the various machines used in the food and beverage industry. The guide is available as a free Ebook.