Within the food and drink industry there is extensive manual handling in the shape of raw materials and equipment handling; food and drink production; container packing; stacking and moving, and delivery of goods to offsite locations.

With such extensive need for manual handling comes a high degree of risk of sustaining musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) as a result of poor technique and lack of manual handling training, as well as non-specific risk assessments.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has published dedicated guidance on moving food and drink. The guidance incorporates a number of case studies which demonstrate cost-effective methods of reducing both chronic and acute injuries.

Typical injuries sustained in the food and drink industry

Chronic injuries associated with moving food and drink include backache, sore shoulders or elbow and numb or tingling wrists as a result of repetitive work. Acute injuries include back strain from lifting awkward or heavy loads. Back injuries account for around a third of occupational ill health cases in food and drink manufacturing processes.

In the food and drink sector, around a third of reportable injuries are acute caused by handling and lifting. Over half of these involve lifting heavy objects. The key point though is that studies have demonstrated that more than half of these injuries are preventable.

The main causes of injury in the food and drink sector leading to MSDs can be linked to just five causes:

  1. Stacking or unstacking containers
  2. Pushing wheeled racks
  3. Preparation of meat and poultry
  4. Packing of products
  5. Handling drinks containers such as casks, kegs and crates

How to recognise the problem

As well as reports of back and limb injuries and aches and pains, there are various signs to look out for that could indicate a problem. These include poor product quality; high wastage; low output; frequent employee complaints and rest stops; DIY workstation and tool modifications such as seat padding and employees wearing splints, bandages, supports or copper bracelets. In other words, it may not always be the case that employees are upfront about reporting a problem.

In many cases in this sector it is necessary to undertake an in-depth risk assessment, particularly if any of the above indicators become apparent. Catching MSDs early is vital if they are to be resolved effectively.

It may prove necessary to adapt certain manual handling tasks to suit the individuals that are carrying them out. This can reduce fatigue and boost satisfaction and motivation leading to improved productivity, reduced sickness absence and better general well-being amongst staff.

As an employer you are required to implement the most effective solution possible with a view to eliminating or at least reducing the risk of manual handling injury. The requirement is that solutions that are ‘reasonably practicable’ are put into action. To do this it is necessary to balance the level of risk against the measures required to control the risk taking into account the cost, the time involved and the practicality.

All manual handling tasks should be assessed individually because one solution may not be appropriate to all issues.

How to prevent MSDs in the food and drink industry

The HSE says that simple solutions are often the best and can have a marked impact on reducing manual handling injuries.

Some of the solutions reported in their food and drink sector case studies include minimising the risk of back, shoulder and arm injuries resulting from handling 50Kg sacks by reducing sack sizes to 25Kg; installing a vacuum bag lifter for emptying sacks to reduce arm, shoulder and back injuries; replacing rolling barrels in a delivery area with a large bin carried on a lift truck to reduce arm, hand, back and feet injuries and employing the use of an electric reel lifting machine to replace the need to manually lift plastic packaging rolls onto spindles.

In one case, training in drinks delivery was necessary to prevent back, arm, shoulder, neck and leg injuries, but training draymen onsite was causing difficulty. The solution was to install ‘training cellars’ at the main distribution centre. In other cases, processes were automated or manual handling aids such as hoists, lift trucks, trolleys and other bespoke machinery were brought in to ease tasks and reduce risk.

There are many more HSE food and drink handling case studies that demonstrate fairly straightforward, common-sense solutions to a range of typical issues associated with materials handling, production, packing and stacking and moving containers.

The importance of tailored manual handling training

Whatever the solution employed to reduce the risk of injury to workers, whether it’s a manual handling aid or a change to or automation of a process, manual handling training remains vital. And that manual handling training should focus on the specifics of the task. In other words, the training should be tailored to factor in the safe use of handling aids and part automated processes.

At Alistair Bromhead Ltd we offer a range of manual handling training courses, all of which include guidance on completing task-specific risk assessments. All courses can be delivered onsite and fully tailored to suit your specific working environment and handling tasks.

To learn more or to book a course call 0800 710 1099 or email info@abromhead.co.uk.