Topics of interest

On this page you will find topics of interest across a wide range of health and safety issues. For information on court cases involving food companies check out HSE press releases.

Guidance on safe management of ammonia refrigeration systems

08 September 2020

This guidance has been developed by industry, following the withdrawal of HSE's publication PM81, to give clear current cross-sector guidance on the safe management of ammonia refrigeration systems. This guidance may go further than the minimum needed to comply with the law.

The guidance was written by the Food Storage and Distribution Federation’s Technical and Safety Committee, British Engineering Services, Institute of Refrigeration and other stakeholders, with support from the Health and Safety Executive and Health and Safety Laboratory. The Food Storage and Distribution Federation has now been rebranded as the Cold Chain Federation.

This guidance should be read in conjunction with:

HSE interventions on Legionnaires’ Disease

7 March 2013

HSE has completed a review of Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks over the past ten years that reveals common failings in control and a potential risk of further legionella outbreaks, such as those in Edinburgh and Stoke in 2012. The review highlighted a range of failures such as:

  • departures from planned maintenance schedules (allowing plant conditions to get worse, and longer periods for problems to develop);
  • changes in the process (leading to changes in the risks, or rendering existing precautions ineffective);
  • staff/contractor changes (leading to a loss of knowledge);
  • intermittent use of plant (resulting in inconsistent control measures); and
  • unusual weather conditions (e.g. bacteria multiplying very fast in warm weather).

Plant which may be implicated in Legionnaire's Disease includes cooling towers, evaporative condensers, hot and cold water systems, humidifiers, air washers, emergency showers, eye wash sprays and tunnel washers.  Further information on precautions is available on the HSE website Legionella pages.

Food and drink manufacture injury rates continue to fall

20 November 2012

HSE recently published its latest HSE Statistics (2011/12) on workplace injuries, work-related ill health and enforcement in GB. 

During 2011/12, in food manufacture, there were 3654 'over-3-day absence' injuries (3836 in 2009/10) plus 672 'major' injuries, e.g. broken bones or requiring hospitalisation (778 in 2009/10).  In drink manufacture there were 320 'over-3-day absence' injuries (369 in 2009/10) plus 58 'major' injuries (81 in 2009/10). 

Food manufacture fatalities

10 March 2012

In the twelve month period April 2011 - March 2012 there were six fatalities in food manufacture. This is higher than the average of four per year and the highest annual number since 2001/2. Three of the recent six fatalities involved machinery, two workplace transport and one an electrocution.

In the twelve year period since April 2000 there have been over 50 fatalities. Machinery/plant accounted for 38%, workplace transport 25%, falls from height 15%, confined spaces/asphyxiation 11%, being struck by an object (e.g. something falling) 8%, electrocution 2% and animals 2%.

  • Causes of fatal injury in food manufacture

Health and safety 'Common Strategy' document revised

5 November 2011

The Food and Drink Manufacture Health and Safety Forum has revised its working document 'A common strategy for improving health and safety in the food and drink manufacturing industries'. This document was originally drawn up between the HSE, the Food and Drink Federation and trades unions almost 20 years ago and was re-written in 2004 when the Forum came into existence. This latest revision has been a year in preparation and was agreed at a regular meeting of Forum members in October 2011. The Strategy sets out the challenges, objectives, progress to date and proposed action/targets that each Forum partner will undertake to further improve health and safety in the industry.

Controlling exposure to disinfectants

12 May 2011

Disinfectants used to control food contamination by micro-organisms are biocidal chemicals classified as hazardous substances. Although disinfectants used in the food and drink industries are especially selected so that potential residues left on surfaces etc do not taint the food or are harmful to the consumer, many affect the skin, eyes or respiratory system and can be harmful if ingested in sufficient quantity.

Disinfectants commonly used in food and drink manufacture (and catering) include:

  • Surface active agents (surfactants) - these include amphoterics and cationics which are classified as skin, eye and respiratory irritants
  • Alcohols - these are used as skin cleaners and as a transport medium for other active ingredients, but nevertheless can be irritant to eyes, nose and throat
  • Aldehydes - glutaraldehyde is classified as a skin and respiratory sensitisor, formaldehyde is a strong respiratory irritant and is also classified as a category 3 carcinogen
  • Peracetic acid - a powerful oxidising agent used in the food and drink industries which is extremely corrosive
  • Hypochlorite and organic chlorine-releasing compounds - corrosive in their concentrated form and are classified as eye and skin irritants in their dilute form (5<10%).

Guidance on controlling exposure to disinfectants used in the food and drink industries

Equality and Human Rights Commission Report - meat and poultry processing industry

28 February 2011

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published a report in 2010 following its inquiry into recruitment and employment in the meat and poultry processing sector. The report revealed evidence of mistreatment and exploitation of migrant and agency workers in the sector, and made recommendations to the key bodies - supermarkets, agencies, processing firms, government, regulators and unions. EHRC anticipates the report will encourage a systemic change of behaviour and is following up its recommendations. HSE inspectors continue to look into the working conditions highlighted in the report during inspection visits.

  • Inquiry into recruitment and employment in the meat and poultry processing sector

Failure of cold/frozen food store ceilings

10 November 2010 

HSE has carried out a fatal accident investigation following failure of the ceiling of a frozen food store. Two men fell to the floor of the store when insulation panels separated from the steelwork, which supported the ceiling. One of the men died from his injuries. The store was constructed in the 1970s. The insulation panels consisted of a sandwich of steel sheets bonded to polyurethane foam. These were bolted to a metal support frame, with engineering grade plastic bolts. The manufacturer of the panels and bolts is unknown. The design is believed to have been common and there are likely to be many of these stores still in use.

Human factors and their effect on health and safety

21 July 2010

Human factors play an important part in accidents and ill health at work. Human factors are environmental, organisational and job factors as well as human and individual characteristics which influence behaviour at work that can affect health and safety. HSE has taken a topic-based approach to human factors which includes, for example:

  • managing human failures
  • fatigue and shiftwork
  • safety critical communications
  • human factors in design
  • training and competence
  • behavioural safety.

Safe maintenance

1 July 2010

Maintenance is a process that affects every area of safety and health. Poor standards and a failure to keep working environments in good condition are major causes of accidents and occupational diseases. Undertaking maintenance activities can potentially expose workers involved (and others) to all sorts of hazards, but there are five issues that merit particular attention because of the severity of the harm that could be involved, and because they are commonly encountered during plant and building maintenance - these are falls from height, isolation and permits-to-work, falls of heavy items, selection of contractors and disturbing asbestos.

HSE is helping promote safe and healthy workplaces by encouraging an integrated and structured approach to maintenance.

Managing for health and safety

28 June 2010

HSE has launched a new microsite dedicated to managing health and safety. This brings together a lot of HSE's existing material on this topic in one place. The microsite forms part of a project to revise HSG65 'Successful health and safety management', due for publication at the end of this year. The material will help businesses - large and small - manage health and safety sensibly and proportionately. During the next six months the site will be developed further, with the addition of case studies and more links to information.

HSE launches ART tool

20 March 2010

HSE has launched a useful tool to assess and reduce risks of upper limb disorders (ULDs) caused by repetitive tasks. ULDs comprise a quarter of all cases of occupational ill health in food and drink manufacture.

The Assessment of Repetitive Tasks (ART) tool was designed by the Health and Safety Laboratory (HSL) and HSE. It has been designed to 'risk assess' repetitive tasks that could result in musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and to make judgements about the degree of risk tasks involve.

To view the tool visit the Assessment of Repetitive Tasks (ART) tool section where you can find tuition material, good practice examples, and a downloadable leaflet.

Fatal gas explosion in bakery oven - HSE advises checking explosion relief panels

19 August 2009

As a result an investigation into a fatal gas explosion in a small bakery, HSE has issued an alert to all users of direct-fired batch ovens with rear-acting explosion relief panels to ensure that:

  1. The explosion relief panel is free to operate;
  2. Any cladding panels over the explosion relief panel are only lightly retained and in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions; and
  3. There is adequate space at the rear of the oven for the explosion relief to operate as intended - this area must be kept as a no-go area and should be kept clear of stored materials and any other obstructions that might interfere with the correct operation of the explosion relief panel.

All bakeries, irrespective of size, are advised to check that the explosion relief panels on their ovens are free to operate properly without impediment or obstruction.

Guidance on dust control in bakeries

7 March 2009

The Federation of Bakers (FOB), with the support of HSE, has recently updated its publication 'Guidance on Dust Control and Health Surveillance in Bakeries' to reflect changes to the COSHH Regulations. The guidance which is often referred to as the 'Blue Book' contains practical advice on controlling exposure to flour and other dusts in bakeries and similar premises and also useful advice on health surveillance. HSE and local authority inspectors have used the original booklet as a reference standard for many years.

The FOB has also re-issued its associated 'Breathe Easy' training package. Both the guidance booklet and training package (which includes a DVD, training notes and the booklet) are available from:

The Federation of Bakers
6 Catherine Street
Tel: 020 7420 7190
Email: [email protected]

Food and drink 'Better Backs' initiative 2008 - Survey findings

5 March 2009

In 2006 the food & drink manufacturing industry conducted a major survey across the various trade sectors of the industry as a follow up to the HSE Backs! 2005 initiative. The objective behind the survey, which was coordinated by the Food Manufacture Health and Safety Forum, was to:

  • establish the injury incidence rate for 'back injuries'
  • identify practical working examples of applications used to eliminate manual handling within the food and drink sector
  • help provide solutions for small/medium enterprises where they may not have the benefits of large food manufacturers.

This survey was repeated during 2008 allowing comparison with the 2006 findings. The incidence of back injuries in 2008 was considerably lower than in 2006, however direct comparison was difficult as different companies took part. Many companies had made considerable progress in reducing back injuries, for example one company had reduced working days lost from back injuries by almost 60%.

The Survey Findings and Working Examples cover both prevention and management of back injuries. The survey has helped identify what action is being taken around key issues such as occupational health involvement, rehabilitation, employee involvement and job rotation. In addition the survey highlights the need to consider raw material delivery weights and finished goods weight and design in conjunction with suppliers and customers. The survey findings conclude with suggestions on back injury prevention.

Diacetyl flavouring

3 March 2008

A number of workers in the popcorn industry in the USA have developed severe lung disease after inhaling fumes from a flavouring agent known as diacetyl (2-3-butanedione) which imparts a butter flavour to food. In its pure form diacetyl is a green-yellow coloured liquid which gives off fumes, especially when heated. Although safe for humans when eaten in the small amounts permitted in the final food product, workers mixing the liquid in concentrated bulk form before adding to foodstuffs can be exposed to vapour that is extremely irritating to the eyes, nose, throat and lungs. In some cases permanent lung damage may occur when the small airways in the lungs become blocked by inflammation.

The extent of diacetyl use for flavouring food and drink products in GB is uncertain. Where it is used, worker exposure to fumes must be controlled in accordance with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations. Under these regulations there is a hierarchy of control - (1) substitution with a safer chemical where possible, (2) containment within sealed plant, (3) effective fume extraction and, if none of these are possible, then goggles and suitable respiratory protective equipment. In addition workers handling diacetyl need to be informed of the hazards/risks and be provided with appropriate training.

Composite sandwich panels - safety issues

22 December 2005 (Revised 20 January 2006)

Composite sandwich panels are used extensively for wall, roof and false ceiling construction in food factories and other large commercial structures and provide thermal/fire resistance and a hygienic cleanable surface. The panels comprise an insulating core sandwiched between two thin steel sheets. The most common core materials are mineral fibre, polystyrene and polyurethane. Panels used for ceilings may allow restricted 'walk-on' access for maintenance etc., subject to safety criteria set out by the manufacturer.

HSE has investigated incidents in which workers have fallen through composite sandwich panel ceilings. Investigations have revealed incorrect installation, overloading and weakening by previous walk-on events as factors.

Checks should be made where such panels are installed as a suspended ceiling or roof cladding, and where access across them to plant or for maintenance etc. is required.

In particular:

  • Panels should be selected and installed as per the manufacturers' guidance with particular care to safe working practices during construction.
  • Independently supported walkways should be installed where frequent access is required, or boards used to spread loading for other prolonged work activities.
  • Panels should not be used as a working platform or for positioning equipment. Guidance on loading capabilities should always be sought from the manufacturer.

Some panels are described as having a load bearing capacity of '1 man + 1 toolbox per panel for occasional access'. Occasional access is not defined and this load bearing criteria may lead to complacency in risk assessing safe design at installation and for subsequent maintenance operations. The accurate load bearing capacity of a particular panel must be sought from the manufacturer as the actual performance of different types of panels can vary greatly.

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Updated 2023-11-15