Identifying Fall Risk Areas in Food Processing Plants
We’ve come a long way since Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel, “The Jungle” – which highlighted some of the dangerous working conditions in American food processing at the turn of the century. While the book is widely remembered for exposing the meatpacking industry’s less-than-sanitary processes (which ultimately led to the development of the FDA), it also brought awareness to worker safety as well.
Yet despite commendable safety regulations and technological advances, workers in the food processing and manufacturing industry continue to face numerous risks more than a century later. In fact, a study published in the July issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine confirms that workers involved in the modern food industry are at higher risk of injury and death than those in other industries.
What are some of the common hazards workers encounter, and how can employers keep them safe on the job?
The first step in advancing safety in any industry is identifying potential hazards. What are the fall risks that may exist in your industrial setup? Once you figure this out, it forms the basis for building your safety and risk mitigation program.
What are Some OSHA Regulations Regarding Food Factories?
OSHA regulatory compliance is just the bare minimum when it comes to industrial safety. Before you go that extra mile to ensure that your team is safe, you must be compliant in the least. Some general OSHA guidelines for any industry—including food processing – include:
OSHA guidelines regarding risky job tasks state that employers should have a plan for them in advance. Some of the questions employers can use to guide them through this stage are:
- How will the job be done?
- What tasks will be involved?
- What are the risks involved?
- What safety equipment may be necessary to complete each task?
Prior planning enables you to make purchases of safety equipment like goggles, gloves, helmets, floor treads, safety harnesses, and loading dock safety equipment, and more beforehand.
After planning, OSHA guidelines mandate that employers or supervisors provide their teams with the necessary safety equipment. Equipment from falls in an industrial setup may vary from active fall protection (like personal fall arrest systems for manlifts and elevated work zones) to passive fall protection (like guard rails on mezzanines, elevated workspaces, or slippery/uneven surfaces).
Each employee should have training on the safe use of industrial equipment as per OSHA protocols. This includes all equipment, from industrial equipment used in food processing to safety equipment used for fall protection.
What are Some Risks Areas in My Food Processing Plant?
Many workplace supervisors understand that risk assessment is a continuous process. A closer look always reveals that your industrial floor plan is ever-changing, with new risks availing themselves as older ones lose significance. This calls for constant assessment, yearly or even monthly, to ensure that your plant remains OSHA compliant.
There are many fall risk areas in your food protection plant; some of these include:
1.) Open Surface Dip Tanks
Open surface dip tanks are a common sight in most food processing plants. Employees that supervise or work above open dip tanks require protective equipment to prevent them from slipping or falling into these tanks. Some of the OSHA compliant protective equipment recommended here are non-slip closed shoes, guard rails, safety lanyards and safety harnesses, goggles, and hair nets or helmets.
2.) Loading Docks
Loading docks include all areas of your plant where products are loaded and offloaded. These loading docks usually have elevations of 4 feet or higher, typically 48 – 52 inches (120 – 130 cm) and above, making them slip and fall risks. To be OSHA compliant, your dock structure and the people who work there need to meet loading dock safety requirements to reduce the chances of falling or slipping in what is potentially one of the busiest parts of your facility. Equipment for loading dock safety includes safety helmets, closed-toe anti-skid footwear, guard rails, and swing gates.
3.) Elevated Platforms
OSHA requirements state that any platform elevated above four feet in general industry workplaces (excluding shipyards and construction sites) needs safety equipment. Your food processing plant, like any other, is not lacking in elevated platforms. From your HVAC and ventilation on your roof to the tall tanks that require supervision to the storage mezzanines – these are all elevated areas associated with fall risk and safety hazards.
Considering elevated surfaces are the leading cause of fall injuries in the workplace, it makes sense that OSHA requires fall protection in order to maintain compliance. Some of the safety measures you should include at elevated platforms include standard fall protection like safety harnesses, guardrails, and an indoor safety gate, as well as anti-skid footwear, non-slip flooring, and warning tape.
4.) Uncovered Pits or Drainage Channels
Your food processing plant most likely has uncovered pits such as ladder wells and drainage channels. To be OSHA compliant, segments of your factory that have such pits or channels must undergo modification for maximum safety. Workers who move around open pits also must receive sufficient safety equipment. Some of the safety equipment and modifications you should consider are personal protective equipment, swing gates for controlled access, hazard warning signs, and guardrails.
5.) Steam Operations
There may be parts of your food processing plant that produce steam or dust. The vapor may later condense into moisture on a surface or path, creating a slip and fall hazard. If you cannot isolate all the places where steam may condense, you may require specific safety equipment to reduce your employees’ fall risks—remember, however, that OSHA compliance requires that all pathways in your plant be kept dry and clean.
6.) Machine Guarding & Access Control
Machine guarding—or the lack thereof—is one of the top OSHA violations in the food processing industry. Standard 1910.212 requires proper machine guarding to protect the operator and other employees in the machine area from hazards like the point of operation, nip points, rotating parts, flying chips, and sparks. Along with providing the appropriate personal protective equipment for your employees, your machines will need specific solutions for their specific operations. Seek out the best safety practices from your equipment manufacturers and maintain access control to keep untrained employees out of the range of danger. This can be accomplished with addition of guardrails and an indoor safety gate.
7.) Inconsistent Lighting
Inconsistent lighting is a fall hazard that many supervisors overlook. In fact, it’s not in OSHA regulations but is an extra mile you should consider. When your employees move from parts of your plant that have direct sunlight (like loading docks) to ones that don’t, they can be temporarily blinded as their eyes adjust. This instantly creates a fall or slip risk that you can address with bright indoor lighting, modular guard rail systems, swing gates, and brimmed helmets.
Where to Source Your Indoor Fall Safety Equipment
Fabenco has been an industry leader in food processing plant fall safety. We are proud to partner with our clients to provide them with a trustworthy fall protection plan and durable safety equipment that exceeds OSHA requirements. If you are in the market for an indoor safety gate or safety harnesses and lanyards, or just need help identifying your fall risks, we are here to assist. Contact us today, and our experts will be more than ready to make your fall safety concerns a thing of the past.