As companies in the food and beverage sector look for ways to improve workplace safety for their employees, tapping into the expertise of suppliers could provide useful insight

The UK’s food and beverage industry is the country’s single largest manufacturing sector[1] and can be split into dozens of different sub-sectors. What all the organisations in the industry have in common is a desire to create a safe working environment for employees.
Despite the industry’s best efforts, however, according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), there are more than 5,000 injuries reported each year with 16% of these categorised as “serious injuries”.[2] Aside from the obvious desire to protect workers, these sorts of incidents can prove damaging in both a financial and reputational sense for companies.
As Del Tiwana, Industry Sector Manager at RS, points out, food and beverage companies are also facing scrutiny from their customers. “This is an industry in which the firms are under real pressure from their customers (often the major supermarket chains) to uphold high safety standards,” he says. “Supermarkets will regularly audit their suppliers and expect both the products and the environment in which they’re made to meet high safety standards.”
In order to achieve high workplace safety, Tiwana explains that there are two key areas of risk that companies in the food and beverage sector need to focus on. “First, there’s the production area and the various machinery that is used there,” Tiwana says. “In addition, there is the individual safety of each employee – what they wear, what products they have to protect themselves while working around the company premises.”
"The RS sector team provide customers with a consultative service around the best workplace safety solutions"Del Tiwana, Industry Sector Manager, RS
Maintaining safety equipment
With machinery, it’s important to have sensors, guards, emergency cut-offs and signage to help protect workers. It’s vital that all this equipment is well maintained and doing the job it was designed for.
Specific risks that crop up in the food and beverage industry are the amount of dust particles in the air, wet and slippery flooring and potential exposure to chemicals. The HSE points out that flooring, specifically, is a prime example of the type of risk workers face with around 35% of workplace accidents caused by slips and trips[3].
“Workers need the right footwear, the correct PPE [personal protective equipment] ideally supported by an overall safety methodology throughout the organisation, such as 5S [a common workplace safety organisation method],” says Tiwana. “It’s also important to have ATEX equipment [equipment that is safe to use in an explosive atmosphere], which is specially designed to be used in potentially hazardous environments.
“For beverage companies, this is particularly important because many well-known soft drinks have a manufacturing process that creates a flammable environment,” he adds. “With ATEX electrical devices these don’t create any form of spark when they are switched on.”
When it comes to this sort of specialised equipment it should go without saying that purchasing approved, branded items is critical, but in some cases there is an ongoing issue around rogue or maverick spend when it comes to ordering products from non-approved suppliers. “It’s not uncommon for a wide variety of local suppliers to be used, or for individual end users to order products themselves,” explains Tiwana. “This means that the company isn’t getting a joined-up approach and benefiting from the expertise of an approved supplier, or the quality guarantee that is needed with safety equipment.
“I’ve been to a number of factories where they supposedly have branded PPE equipment in place and you find products there that are not fit for purpose.”
Industry expertise
Tiwana believes that firstly having a supplier that understands the food and beverage industry and then making use of the expertise is essential when it comes to workplace safety.
“The RS sector team have the industry knowledge around all of these products and work very closely with our suppliers so that we provide customers with a consultative service around the best workplace safety solutions,” he explains. “This can mean that the RS team may recommend new products or updating existing safety equipment so that everything possible is being done to protect employees.
"A good safety record is what every company in the food and beverage sector wants, it's in their interests to collaborate with experts who can help them achieve that"Del Tiwana, Industry Sector Manager, RS
“In the end, a good safety record is what every company in the food and beverage sector wants. It’s in their interests to collaborate with experts who can help them achieve that.”
Ensuring your company has the best workplace safety in place for its staff does not, however, mean that good MRO ordering practice should be ignored. Tiwana recommends that companies should harmonise the brands that they use – a lot of firms use equipment made by dozens of different brands, which can be both costly, and confusing for users.
“We can offer inventory management solutions: RS ensures that stock is available with fast delivery so that when new safety equipment is needed, it can be ordered simply and quickly,” says Tiwana. “This helps reduce time wasted and also the costs to the business.
“If the buyer is wasting time looking around for a piece of equipment either in their own store room, or via various non-approved suppliers, they can end up making a rushed decision and either spend too much money or, worse, buy the wrong equipment, which will not offer the level of protection required,” he adds. “By using a supplier like RS, it’s easy to order and we can help guide people to the product they need.”