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Food and drink industry case studies

These case studies describe real incidents with real consequences for those involved. They cover the main causes of injury and occupational ill health in the food and drink industries.

Case studies from the Food and Drink Manufacturing Forum (FDMF)

The following case studies emphasise the value of FDMF members sharing practical and cost-effective control solutions.

The examples show how companies successfully tackled health and safety problems, creating positive outcomes for the businesses and their workers.

Find out more about the Food and Drink Manufacturing Forum.

New equipment minimises manual handling risks in an abattoir

The problem

Following animal stunning, workers were manually lifting and carrying a lifting shackle before attaching such to a stunned animal’s leg. Workers were then manually attaching this shackle to a hoist block, so that the animal could be mechanically lifted and hooked onto the overhead rail system, allowing the stunned animal to be transferred for further processing.

This procedure meant that workers were manually handling a shackle (weighing 10.5kg) around 280 times a shift at an average of every 90 seconds. The position of the stunned animal determined how long the shackling process would take.

The solution

A sure-lander was installed to tackle the problem. This enabled a direct mechanical transfer of the lifting shackle from the overhead rail system to the vertical lifting hoist block, removing the need for this task to be done manually.

A mechanical cradle was also introduced to enable better positioning of a stunned animal before shackling. This allowed the operative a safer and quicker angle of approach, reducing the risk from operative/animal interactions.

Managers showed decisive leadership in planning, purchasing and installing both sets of equipment. Employees were heavily involved in the project, from providing input to planning through to trialling the equipment when it was installed and helping to compile training documents.

Lifting aids such as this vacuum lift were introduced for moving heavy loads

Installing a sure-lander and cradle eliminated manual handling risks

The outcome

There was a hugely positive impact on the manual handling process within the stunning/lifting process. Installing the sure-lander and cradle virtually eliminated manual handling and associated risks.

Manual handling risks from meat inspections reduced by installing new equipment

The problem

Workers were experiencing fatigue and were at risk from manual handling injuries due to repetitive and demanding decanting tasks. An Improvement Notice was issued by HSE.

The solution

The company attended Health and Safety Laboratory training on manual handling for assessors. They also used HSE’s online tools to identify high-risk tasks – manual handling assessment charts (MAC), assessment of repetitive tasks (ART) and risk assessment of pushing and pulling (RAPP).

By lowering the frequency of meat inspections from full-product to 40-piece checks, they reduced the number of products handled at intake.

They installed conveyors between machinery to streamline the process and remove three hazardous manual handling tasks:

They also installed ‘dolav tilters’ (back savers) in high or medium risk decanting operations.

Employees were involved during the risk assessment process – they suggested solutions and trialled new approaches.

Dolav tilter (back saver) used to reduce vertical lifting during product decanting
Dolav tilter (back saver) used to reduce vertical lifting during product decanting
Conveyors streamlined the process and removed manual handling tasks
Conveyors streamlined the process and removed manual handling tasks

The outcome

The company reduced the number of hazardous manual handling operations on site and therefore reduced the risk level, satisfying the Improvement Notice. The changes also produced a good return on investment, as they moved staff to other tasks and could collect and recycle product injection brine through drip trays under the conveyor.

Training, job rotation and lifting aids reduce MSDs in leading food company

The problem

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) caused by manual handling were causing ill health, high absence levels and employer liability claims. The operations included:

The solution

An MSD strategy and standard were developed through consultation, including all site general managers and operations directors.

Risk assessment and manual handling instructor training was supported by leadership teams through funding and allowing people time away from normal work.

Workers received job-specific manual handling training and support including ergonomic surveys and risk assessments, as well as an on-site physio service.

Pre-start muscle stretch exercises were introduced, alongside job rotation to prevent people doing repetitive tasks for too long.

Mechanical handling and lifting aids were introduced for moving heavy loads (eg bag-handling equipment).

Workers were heavily involved – a safety concern forum and best-practice page on the intranet encouraged them to report manual handling concerns and suggest solutions.

Inspector Calls

Lifting aids such as this vacuum lift were introduced for moving heavy loads

The outcomes

The changes meant MSD-related incidents reduced by 16%, associated absences fell by 5% and liability claims dropped by 9%.

There were other benefits too – worker morale and engagement improved as job rotation allowed employees to do varied tasks in different areas.

Adding a reverse-cut to knives stops them injuring butchers

The problem

Butchers were receiving cut injuries from knives which protruded through the chainmail they were wearing.

The solution

Adding a reverse-cut to all their knives eliminated the risk of a knifepoint penetrating the chainmail and causing an injury.

The company carried out trials of the new knives with employees to assess their performance before implementing them across the site.

Senior managers showed strong leadership by swiftly approving the changes and making resources available to pay for them.

A reverse cut prevented knives penetrating chainmail

The outcome

By taking this practical, straightforward action, the company reduced the number of knife injuries from three or four a month to zero.

Push handle on tote bins improve back posture and reduce injury risks

By undertaking and acting upon manual handling risk assessments using HSE’s MAC, ART and RAPP tools, a company reduced its manual handling accidents by 70% over 2 years. This case study is an example of the action the company took.

The problem

Workers were having to push tote bins full of primal cuts of meat that weighed up to 200kg. The travel distance was approximately 20m. This activity resulted in poor manual handling practices as workers had to bend their backs while pushing the bins due to the height of the handle.

The solution

Worker posture was improved by redesigning the bin handles. These redesigned pushing handles were trialled – managers conducted job observations and employees were shown them and asked if they would help them. Following positive feedback, new handles were ordered. This simple solution cost £89.

Original bin handle leading to poor worker posture
Redesigned bin handle improved worker posture

The outcome

The new handles produced improved back posture when employees were pushing a tote bin. This reduced the possibility of back injuries.

Other examples of industry solutions

Here are some examples of solutions that helped solve health and safety problems.

Manual handling/Musculoskeletal disorders

Lifting and stacking

Preparing orders in a food warehouse involved bending, pulling and twisting to lift and stack loads weighing up to 50kg onto pallets/roll cages.

The warehouse and task was redesigned so that no heavy stock was above shoulder height and the maximum package weight was reduced to 25kg. Injury rates decreased by 30% and costs reduced by 40%. Absenteeism went from 9% to 2% and the cost of implementation was recouped within 12 months.

Awkward movements (lidding)

Baking tin lids were placed and removed from baking tins at a rate of up to 650 per hour by one or two operatives. Staff complaint about the repetitiveness of the work which involved stooping, twisting and holding loads away from the body.

The company automated the process at a cost of £16,000. The operators could be redeployed elsewhere, complaints ceased, noise reduced, production improved and the yearly cost saving was between £50-60,000.

Pushing trolleys

Trays of pork cuts were stacked 10 high and pushed on 4-wheel trolleys by production staff. Strains and sprains from pushing the trolleys were common, mainly due to damaged trolley wheels.

The company implemented a maintenance programme and employed a person whose main job was to repair, maintain and replace faulty wheels. There was a dramatic decrease in injuries associated with this task, fewer staff complaints and an increase in productivity.

You can find more detailed case studies on manual handling and tackling musculoskeletal disorders in the HSE guide Moving food and drink.

Slips management

Slipping on a wet floor

A worker was injured when walking past a tray cleaning area in a large food factory. The floor was wet from run-off and from prewash spray. The man, who was wearing normal outdoor shoes, slipped and fell, breaking his femur.

An improved floor surface with greater microscopic surface roughness was installed to reduce slip risks and control of water spray implemented. Suitable safety footwear was also issued, with soles that provided better grip in wet conditions.

Slipping in a bakery

In a plant bakery a worker slipped in a puddle of fat on the floor at the corner of a fryer. Her arm went into the reservoir of hot fat in the fryer causing burns to her arm and hand. The fat was leaking from a faulty valve.

The valve was replaced and a system set up to spot and clean up spills.

Slipping from the top of plant

An employee was standing on the top of food production plant as she washed it with a hose. She slipped, fell off the plant and fell 2m, breaking her arm. Standing on the plant for cleaning had been condoned within the factory. Safe access arrangements are now provided.

Preventing slips by changing footwear

Workers at a company rendering animal products were frequently being injured due to slip accidents.

The company carried out a trial using a new shoe with a sole which had been shown to be highly slip-resistant when tested wet in tests at HSE's Health and Safety Laboratory. At the end of the 7-month trial, a group of workers using traditional footwear had suffered 15 slip injuries. A similar group using the new footwear had suffered no injuries.

You can find more advice on our slips and trips pages.

Falls from height

Fatal fall from lift truck forks

A worker was standing on the raised forks of a fork lift truck (FLT) attempting to locate bulk bags onto the forks. The FLT became overloaded and tilted forward, throwing the worker onto the concrete floor from which he received fatal injuries.

Standing on the forks of FLTs, or a pallet mounted on the forks, regularly leads to fatal accidents and should not be allowed under any circumstances. So you must provide instruction to prevent workers doing this, and when working at height, always use safe access equipment, designed for that purpose.

You can find advice on our work at height pages.

Workplace transport

Vehicle/pedestrian segregation

A new employee was leaving site at the end of the day. He crossed in front of doors used by fork lift trucks and was struck by the forks of a truck as it emerged through the door, breaking his arm as he fell.

Clear demarcation of vehicle and pedestrian routes and marking of doors to indicate their use would have prevented this accident.

Crushed by reversing vehicle

A worker in a bakery received fatal crush injuries to his head when a shunter (cab) unit was reversing onto a HGV trailer in a loading bay. The workers head became trapped between the reversing trailer and the frame of the loading bay door.

Safe systems of work for vehicle reversing operations should be in operation.

Segregation and reversing

A worker was crushed by a reversing FLT against railings which had been provided to separate pedestrians from the vehicle roadway. The FLT driver had reversed without looking and crushed the worker who was on the road side of the railings.

Workers should have use pedestrian routes and drivers should look before reversing.

Fork lift truck (FLT) overturn

An FLT operator at a coffee manufacturer died when the vehicle overturned and crushed him. The position of the rear wheels suggested the truck may have been turning fairly sharply at the time.

Injuries and fatalities from FLTs are disproportionately high and systems need to be in place to ensure their safe use.

Reach truck struck door lintel

An employee at a biscuit manufacturer was driving a reach truck through a doorway when it struck the lintel. The impact caused the lintel to dislodge and this fell on the driver fatally injuring him.

Overhead strikes with tall or high reach vehicles occur frequently and need to be considered in risk assessments.

Struck by something

Machine fell on workers

A maintenance fitter was killed and an engineer injured when a large twin-arm, dough mixing machine fell from the raised forks of an FLT. The machine was on the forks to enable maintenance work from beneath.

Many accidents occur during maintenance operations so pay special attention to ensure safe systems of work.

Struck by sharp knife

A worker received a serious hand injury when using a sharp hand knife to debone meat.

The company now provide knife-proof arm guards and gloves for the non-knife hand and knife-proof aprons.

Machinery

Crushed in machine

An engineer suffered fatal crushing injuries when working within the danger area of a large robotic palletising machine. The machine started up unexpectedly as it had not been electrically isolated, and the power locked off. In food and drink manufacturing, around one fatality a year results from workers entering large machines which have not been safely isolated and locked-off from electric, hydraulic or pneumatic power sources.

Systems should be in place to ensure workers entering machines are safe, for example by locking off the power source and the worker taking the key with them into the machine.

Trapped by in-running rollers

A company making naan breads imported a machine for making and flattening the dough. The machine was not CE marked and had unguarded rollers to flatten the dough. A worker feeding flour into the machine slipped on some flour and fell towards the machine, putting out a hand to break his fall. His hand was drawn into the unguarded rollers and trapped. He was eventually released by the Fire Services and suffered permanent damage to his hand.

Caught in conveyor

A worker cleaning underneath one end of a conveyor belt in a packing area had his hand and arm drawn into the in running nip between the belt and the end roller. His injuries included loss of the arm. Conveyors cause 30% of machinery injuries in food/drink factories and guarding is required which will be effective but allow cleaning. For more information, see our page on food processing machinery.

Occupational asthma

Bakery uses low-dust flour to reduce asthma risk

Bakkavor Bread – part of Bakkavor Group – has significantly reduced the risk of asthma from flour dust by using low-dust flour for dusting at its Twister Bread production line.

Previously normal flour was used, with workers needing to wear respiratory protective equipment (RPE) to prevent the risk of breathing in flour dust and developing ‘baker’s asthma’. Since introducing the low-dust flour, workers no longer need to wear RPE, they feel more comfortable and can communicate easily.

The company has made production savings, mainly due to a decrease in waste and an associated labour reduction through not having to remake dough. The Production Line Leader said: ‘We use half the amount of this new flour compared to what we did before and the flour works well on our equipment.’

The problem: Using normal baking flour for dusting the bread dough during the production of Twister Bread caused airborne flour dust which workers could breathe in. Operative exposure to flour dust was higher than the good practice value of 2 mg/m3 (8-hour time-weighted average (TWA)).

The solution: Normal dusting flour was substituted with heat-treated, low-dust flour.  This change, along with other more efficient ways of applying this dusting flour, has significantly reduced the amount of flour used to produce the twister bread.  Flour dust is also no longer visible in the air and operative exposures have significantly decreased to less than 1 mg/m3 (8-hour TWA).

Low-dust flour was proven to be an excellent substitute for normal baking flour to control the health risk associated from inhaling flour dust.

Read the full case study 

Noise

Machine design

In a bakery making fresh frozen buns, metal track conveyors were used to transport metal trays with buns between two machines. The noise level was 94dB(A) and some of this noise was produced by the metal tracking coming into contact with other parts of the machine and the metal trays.

The solution

The metal tracking on the conveyor was replaced with plastic (polyurethane) tracking at a cost of £600. This reduced the noise level to 87dB(A).

Enclosure

Glass jars were transported along a conveyor from the jar cleaner to the filler. The glass jars clashed together producing a noise level of 96dB(A).

The solution

An acoustic enclosure was put over the conveyor at a cost of £2,000 and the conveyor speed was changed to reduce jar clashing. Noise levels were reduced to 86dB(A).

You can find more examples of solutions to tackle noise risks in the HSE guide Sound solutions for the food and drink industries.

Occupational dermatitis

Disinfecting tablets

A number of employees in a food production area developed dermatitis. This was traced to water disinfecting tablets which were used to wash vegetables.

The solution

The employer stopped those who had developed dermatitis working in this area and issued gloves to food handlers subsequently involved in this work. This resolved the problem.

Updated 2020-07-15