NIOSH council encouraging safety before speed in food manufacturing

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in the United States is focusing on lockout/tagout for workers in the food manufacturing industry.
This industry includes animal slaughtering as well as the processing and packaging of meat, dairy, fruit, vegetable, grain, seafood, beverages and bakery products. The industry employs nearly 1.5 million workers in the United States.

According to the NIOSH NORA Manufacturing Sector Council, many of the machine-related injuries are related to failure to use lockout/tagout (LO/TO) procedures. These often occur when workers are serving or repairing a machine and fail to de-energize it and lock out sources of energy.

From 2003-13, 28 fatalities and 227 serious injuries were related to lockout procedures in food manufacturing. The largest number of incidents occurred in meatpacking and poultry slaughtering and processing, found the council.

The speed challenge

All employers in food manufacturing should have a comprehensive program in place around machine safety, including lockout/tagout. This program should encourage workers not to sacrifice safety in the name of speed.

"Smaller businesses face the challenge of remaining competitive in the food and beverage processing industry, and we know most companies are struggling to keep up with a bustling pace and narrow profit margins. Pace equals profit in this industry, but workers need to stay safe while maintaining their pace," said the NIOSH council.

The council wants employers in this sector to understand pace does not have to be a tradeoff for safety; optimal levels of both can be achieved. If something falls off the assembly line and a machine gets jammed, a quick solution may seem like a good option but it could result in amputations or death.

"Employers who ‘get it’ know that it is far more valuable to control hazardous energy with LO/TO procedures than to risk both the personal and financial loss that can result from machine-related injury," said the NIOSH council. "An injury, death, or even a fine from a violation can quickly nullify gains from increased work speed."

Elements of a successful LO/TO program:
• written procedures
• documentation of each source of energy
• locking and tagging devices
• verification of energy isolation
• proper locks at proper places (isolation points)
• training (including skills demonstration) in the primary language of employees
• auditing of work process.

The council wants to help small food manufacturers with LO/TO and is seeking input from stakeholders to enhance its understanding of the issues surrounding LO/TO in the food and beverage processing industry. For more information click here.