The food production chain has a three stages - agriculture, manufacturing and retailing/catering. Food and drink manufacturing takes place in factories ranging in size from those employing only a few workers to those employing hundreds.
Indeed many medium or larger sized food and drink factories are themselves part of national, or even international, multi-site organisations employing thousands of workers.
HSE's field of responsibility primarily covers the first two stages in this chain - agriculture and manufacturing. Retailing and catering fall within the responsibility of Local Authority Environmental Health Departments, although HSE works with these departments to ensure some consistency of approach in health and safety issues.
HSE has been working closely at national level with the many food and drink manufacturing industries since the early 1990s. Early agreement between HSE and these industries under the Recipe for Safety initiative on causes of injuries, and action required to prevent them, has led to a significant reduction in injuries reported to HSE. This initiative is currently overseen and carried forward by the joint HSE/industry Food Manufacture H&S Forum.
Since around 2000, increased attention has been paid to occupational health issues (such as back injuries, WRULDs, mental ill health/stress, occupational asthma and dermatitis). During a typical year, almost 5% of food manufacture workers suffer from ill health caused or made worse by work, over twice the number suffering from a reportable injury at work.
Running parallel to this joint HSE/industry work at national level, HSE inspectors in regional HSE offices visit food and drink factories to check health and safety risk assessments (and actions required as a result of these assessments). These visits also concentrate on the dozen main causes of injury and occupational ill health.
The reduction in injuries in the food manufacturing industry since 1990 has been impressive and indications are that occupational health is also improving. The significant benefits accruing are attributed to all parties involved working together - trade associations, major employers, trade unions, HSE and other national bodies.