Quality control

consultancy System Concepts shares its data on the main causes of injury and
ill health, such as manual handling and noise, in the food and drink industries,
by Tracey Harte

key function of the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) field  operations directorate is to publish
guidance and advice for industry to ensure risks to people’s health and safety
at work are properly controlled.

HSE’s food and entertainment sector is responsible for all food and drink
manufacturers, and has commissioned several research projects within the sector
to assist in the publication of some of its latest guidelines.

new publications require a thorough examination of the key issues and
up-to-date, accurate research, System Concepts, a research consultancy, was
commissioned to collect data on some of the main causes of injury and
ill-health, such as manual handling and noise, in the food and drink industries.

and health problems can manifest themselves in many different ways, from
specific cases of injury to backs and limbs, general aches and pains, to poor
product quality and low output.

is important employers are vigilant, assess the risks and take steps to catch
problems early.  

the food and drink industries, most musculoskeletal injuries arise from five
main causes:

Stacking/unstacking containers (such as boxes, crates and sacks)

Pushing wheeled racks (oven racks and roll cages)

Cutting, boning, jointing, trussing, evisceration (meat and poultry)

Packing products (cheese, confectionery and biscuits)

Handling drinks containers (delivery of casks, bottles, kegs and crates)

Concepts carried out extensive research in all five areas to provide case study
material about successful solutions to manual handling problems. The result of
this research was used in Moving Food and Drink – manual handling solutions for
the food and drink industries (HSG 196). This is a comprehensive publication
produced to assist employers whose working procedures might be putting their
employees at risk of injury. Its main aim is to help industry reduce both
chronic and acute injuries arising from manual handling and repetitive tasks.

its extensive network of contacts in the food and drink industries, the consultancy
collected 100 case studies that uncovered the main risk areas and helped
identify solutions that were then published in the guidance.

were ‘real life’ cases and the simple, cost-effective solutions identified,
provide useful answers to a wide range of manual handling problems that are
common across the industry.  

case studies were divided into seven sections, which addressed the main areas
of concern:

Raw materials handling


Packing into containers

Stacking/moving containers

Handling equipment

Off-site delivery

colour-coded table provides an easy reference guide to all the case studies,
helping employers locate the most relevant examples for their own operation.

case study looks at the task involved – for example, emptying kegs or moving
drums – and explains the problems experienced by employees as a result. A range
of practical solutions are then identified, put in place to overcome these
difficulties and the results analysed.

was collected from a cross-section of personnel at each company, including
senior management, OH specialists, health and safety representatives,
production supervisors and operatives (those actually experiencing the problems
first-hand), in order to ensure the accuracy and relevance of each case.

case studies were compiled and approvals obtained from all the participating


detailed analysis was conducted into sack handling, which was published in the
HSE’s guidance Reducing injuries caused by sack handling in the food and drink
industries food information sheet 31.

handling of sacks is carried out extensively in the food and drink industries
and is one of the main causes of musculoskeletal injury.  

Concepts’ research estimated that two-thirds of food and drink companies have
at least some employees carrying out sack handling. Operations involving this
include unloading shipping containers, stacking in warehouses, transporting in
factories, tipping into hoppers or sieves and offloading from production lines.

research was conducted into sack handling techniques and guidance was provided
on best practice for manual handling, which was then published in the
information sheet.

sack handling operations are required to have a risk assessment carried out and
action taken on the findings to reduce any risk to workers. The sack handling
guidance note is intended to help employers with this assessment and also
offers practical advice on how to reduce manual handling injuries in food factories.

list of factors that should be taken into account in the risk assessment is
provided, such as the weight, size and shape of the sacks, the nature of the
load, the frequency of lifting and the distance and duration they are carried.

the assessment has been carried out, actions to reduce the risk of manual
handling injuries for employees should be implemented as soon as possible, and
the guidance provides suggestions as to how this can be done, through
eliminating sacks and also by introducing mechanical handling.  

where such alternative measures are not possible, and sacks must be handled
manually, the guidance provides a checklist for safe handling.

hearing loss

hearing loss, resulting from persistent exposure to high noise levels, is also
a key concern in the food and drink industries. System Concepts produced an
initial report on the general problem of noise and then carried out extensive
research for the HSE publication, Sound solutions for the food and drink
industries: reducing noise in food and drink manufacturing (HSG232).

on from the successful format used for Moving Food and Drink, the team employed
the same methodology and collected 60 case studies drawn from a wide range of
food manufacturing processes, and identified problems and solutions that were
published in the guidance. They were grouped under the following seven headings:

Purchasing policy

Design/design changes



Acoustic panels and curtains

Damping materials and silencers


case studies describe simple, cost-effective ways of reducing the risk of
hearing damage to workers and the solutions given are the successful answers to
actual problems experienced by ‘real’ companies.

risks from manual handling and noise are not confined to food and drink
manufacturers. The same issues affect a wide range of industries worldwide,
where employees are required to make repetitive movements in order to carry out
their work or if they are subjected to high noise levels.

from legislative reasons for employers to carry out risk assessments, there are
several other reasons for employers to act. Failure to take action costs more
in the long-term, with injury and sickness problems leading to absence from
work, high staff turnover, retraining and loss of production. Compensation
cases are also rising, which can, in turn, lead to a corresponding increase in
insurance premiums.

modifications to ease working procedures also often reduces fatigue and
improves motivation, morale and job satisfaction. This improves the general
health of the workforce and boosts productivity levels, which many of the case
studies carried out for the HSE demonstrate.

Concepts’ Tanya Heasman explains: "The case studies for both manual
handling and noise look at problems experienced by ‘real’ companies and how
they have been solved, and so provide pragmatic and immediately useful
recommendations for other companies within the industry."

Morgan, who leads HSE’s food section, says: "Our key functions are to
agree health and safety standards with industry, to gather intelligence,
develop strategies, monitor performance and carry out research, so that
ultimately, we can safeguard health and safety across the food and drink

Concepts’ extensive knowledge of the food and drink industries, combined with
the thorough research carried out, has proved invaluable in the publication of
several key guidance documents, which provide companies with a vital source of
practical information to help them mimimise the risks to their employees,"
adds Morgan.

priced and free publications are available by mail order from HSE Books, PO Box
1999, Sudbury, Suffolk, CO10 2WA, tel: 01787 881165, fax: 01787 313995, or via
www.hsebooks.co.uk (HSE priced publications are also available from bookshops
and free leaflets can be downloaded from HSE’s website at www.hse.gov.uk   www.system-concepts.com  tel:
020 7240 3388


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