Logical approach cuts slips & trips by two thirds at food processor

There is no single answer - but identification, prioritisation and staff involvement pave the way for some straightforward actions and solutions.

When a company producing pre-prepared meals set about improving its health and safety performance reducing slip and trip injuries became the first target. A review of their incident records clearly showed that the majority of accidents to employees were slip and trip incidents.

Management taking responsibility and taking the lead

A senior managers steering group was set up to 'raise their game' on health and safety and, in recognition of the significance of slips & trips in their food processing environment, set a target of reducing slips & trips by a third within a year.

Tapping into workforce knowledge and experience

Managers recognised that success would rely heavily on the involvement and commitment of the whole of the workforce. Staff working groups were asked to hold their own meetings and to look for problem areas, opportunities for improvement and suggest possible solutions. These were fed back to the steering group who could collate them, prioritise what had been identified and arrange whatever correction was needed. In playing their part the staff working groups were often able to remedy problems there and then without the need to report to managers. They found that the extra awareness created by being actively consulted and involved meant that they were more alert to problems and felt better able to deal with them. Workforce safety representatives were also given incident investigation training so that they could play a part in identifying the real, underlying causes of any accidents that did happen.

Fostering workforce commitment for working together for safe premises and safe behaviour

Photo showing food spilled on floor.

Some food is inevitably spilled

This steering group, working group and 'problem spotting' activity ran parallel with training and awareness sessions for all staff. Their purpose was to make the workforce better informed and more able to identify and deal with problems. They were also intended to start to change what managers felt had come to be an unacceptable workforce culture and attitude towards hazards and risk. Unsafe behaviour and tolerance of risk had become to be accepted, even normal practice. Managers' objective was to make unsafe behaviour and risk taking unacceptable amongst the workforce. Challenging of unsafe acts, collective responsibility and peer expectations were found to be strong influences in changing the pre-existing culture.

When this culture shift was combined with the real improvements that the workforce was able to see in response to their working group reports their motivation was reinvigorated. They could witness the improving situation as it happened.

Employing solutions in a hierarchical sequence - floor contamination, safe floor surfaces, safe behaviour, improved footwear

Management were able to arrange for a number of worthwhile improvements thanks to the information coming out of the staff working groups and their own initiatives such as incident mapping - plotting incidents on a plan of the premises, seeing where (& when) they happen most and establishing why. For example, this process helped management to identify that sauce getting onto the floor seemed to be responsible for a number of slipping incidents. (A market driven change in product specification actually did away with their sauce line, so that issue went away on its own.)

Designated person for removing spillages

Designated person for removing spillages

Production lines no longer had fixed hose-pipes for swilling down as it was found that they had often been just left running resulting in a lot of water on floor surfaces and wasted money on water bills. Hoses can now be collected from the equipment stores when they are needed for cleaning down but must be returned. Instead, one person on each processing line is designated as being responsible for clearing away any food spillages as they happen. Floor contamination by water and product is now much less - so fewer slips.

Trip incidents were looked at too. Records showed that these were caused most often by the uncontrolled way in which movable items, usually pallets, were placed around the work areas during production. Designating 'pallet points' and marking them with floor lines kept the pallets used for work where they were needed, away from walkways, where everyone knew that they were and made it obvious when they had been left where they should not be. It became an ingrained good habit for staff to follow and 'self police' this simple safe practice.

The floor surfaces were looked at and some areas were found to be life expired - they were worn out. These were prioritised for replacement. Other floors not in the processing areas were also looked at and matting introduced to stop wet soles transferring water from production rooms onto smooth floors elsewhere.

When the initial decision was made to put the spotlight on health & safety, starting with slips & trips, management did wonder whether it would be a long process to achieve noticeable improvements. They were, in fact, able to show a 34% drop in slip & trip incidents over the course of the first year. It was also apparent that this went hand in hand with the shift in attitudes towards these incidents. From senior managers to the shop floor, everyone 'signed up' to making a difference and they were encouraged to see that their efforts and involvement were having a real effect.

Building on success

Not content with meeting the reduction target that they had set themselves the company started to look at another part of the slip equation. They continued to work on issues of floor contamination, good walkway surfaces, behaviour/task/human factors and they turned their attention to the footwear issued to the workforce - wellington boots suitable for use in a hygiene critical environment. Discussions with their supplier revealed that there was a new food-standard wellington in development that the supplier was confident had improved slip resistance performance over its predecessor.

An agreement was reached with the supplier for a field trial of the prototype by the company and a test batch was issued to a group of workers. Their reaction was immediate and universally positive. Straight away staff reported that they felt the new boots had much more slip resistance, their subjective impression was that the boots were actively gripping the floor. Management were sufficiently impressed to take the decision to roll out the new footwear across all production areas. Although this was a gradual process they found that they were quickly able to identify another marked drop in slip incidents with incident rates down by over 60% on their original level even before introduction of the new footwear was fully complete. Tests carried out independently at HSE's Health & Safety Laboratory on the new boots came to similar conclusions, indicating that they were one of the better performing boots for slip resistance in wet/aqueous contaminant conditions.

Taking the lessons forward

Real results had been achieved in quite a short period of time but no one rested on their laurels. The outcomes had relied on sound techniques - analysing the situation, utilising workforce knowledge, getting everyone involved, fostering the right culture, prioritising action and demonstrating the positive outcomes. These same techniques were used again as the company looked to raise its game on health and safety across the board with manual handling & musculoskeletal risks taking centre stage.

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