Proactive Measures for Employee Safety in Dry Processing

Consumer safety must be a top priority for food manufacturing and packaging facilities, but equally important is employee safety. Making employee safety a top priority has multiple benefits, including increased employee satisfaction, higher employee morale, reduced employee absenteeism and lower workers’ compensation costs.

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Consumer safety must be a top priority for food manufacturing and packaging facilities, but equally important is employee safety. Making employee safety a top priority has multiple benefits, including increased employee satisfaction, higher employee morale, reduced employee absenteeism and lower workers’ compensation costs.

While numerous safety regulations and codes exist for the food manufacturing industry, some injuries still occur. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the private industry food manufacturing sector had a nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses incident rate of 4.8 in 2011, compared to the 3.5 incident rate for private industry employers as a whole1. Fortunately, best practices that go beyond industry standards can further improve employee safety in the food manufacturing industry.

Due to the particle size and physical properties of powdered foods, dry processing food manufacturing and packaging facilities have special considerations when it comes to employee safety. Implementing best practices that go beyond industry standards in the areas of facility layout, dust control and materials handling can significantly improve employee safety.

Facility Layout

Facility layout and design has a major impact on employee safety. Whether you are building a facility from the ground up or renovating an existing facility, consider how the layout of the facility can be designed to increase employee safety. 

GSC Packaging outgrew its packaging facility, which gave the company the opportunity to fully renovate a larger facility to its exact specifications, including creating a circular flow of materials around 16 individual packaging suites. This layout is ideal for establishing an orderly flow of traffic with a clear distinction between where pedestrians walk and where forklifts are allowed to travel. Creating a consistent flow of traffic allows employees to anticipate, not only where forklifts travel, but also which direction they travel.

Another facility layout best practice is to separate primary and secondary packaging rooms to reduce the amount of exposure employees have to powdered food products. At the GSC Packaging facility, each primary packaging room has an attached secondary packaging room. A conveyor belt transfers the packaged products to the secondary packaging room through a small opening. The primary packaging room has positive air pressure, which prevents particles from traveling into the secondary packaging space and reduces employee exposure to dust particles.

Dust Control

A major safety concern for employees in dry processing food manufacturing facilities is dust control. Airborne irritants make an unpleasant working environment and may cause health problems. In addition, dust that resides on the floor is also the cause of slipping hazards.

Dust must be managed with a robust dust control system, as well as stringent sanitation best practices. When manufacturing or packaging products with a high sugar content, you may have to increase your sanitation measures to prevent particles from building up on equipment, walls and floors. Products that contain a high amount of sugar can also cause dust control filters to clog more quickly as sugar crystalizes. To keep your dust control system working properly, you may need to service your dust control equipment more frequently than the specified minimum manufacturer requirement. Consider conducting a dust control system check weekly as preventative maintenance.

Another major safety concern is explosive dust. Powdered food products that contain organic compounds are often at risk of being explosive under specific conditions. In fact, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) lists food processing facilities as among the industries most likely to have explosive dust2. Even if you do not think the dust in your facility is explosive, it is important to have it tested anyway. According to OSHA many employers and employees are unaware that their facility contains explosive dust3. It is also important to install dust control equipment that is explosion proof to further protect employees. Explosion proof dust control systems can be installed outside a building so that any explosions blow away from with building.

In an attempt to create a cohesive document that covers the dangers of explosive dust, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Technical Committee on the Fundamentals of Combustible Dust has begun work on the NFPA 652 Standard on Combustible Dust. The standard will provide basic principles and requirements for identifying and managing fire and explosion hazards of combustible dusts and particulate solids. The revised standard is expected to be finalized by 20154.

Materials Handling

Materials handling is a necessary part of a food manufacturing or packaging facility’s daily operations; however, improper materials handling can compromise employee safety. Employees in the dry processing facilities often have to transport super sacks, which can hold more than 2,500 pounds of dry, flowable powdered ingredients. It is not enough to have the proper equipment in place to transport these large loads; employees must also receive extensive, ongoing training to ensure proper use of lifting equipment.

One way to promote materials handling safety is to host monthly safety meetings for employees. Even though monthly safety meetings are not required by a regulatory agency, they are valuable for identifying potential safety hazards and keeping safety top of mind for employees.

Some materials handling tools, such as forklifts, require licensing. OSHA requires forklift operators to complete training and renew licensing a minimum of once every three years. However, an employee safety best practice is to require relicensing yearly to ensure employees do not become complacent.      

Ed Forrest is the Director of Operations for GSC Packaging. GSC is nationwide provider of turnkey contract packaging and secondary packaging solutions for powdered food products, drink mixes, supplements, and diet products. The company specializes in stick packs, stand up and other popular flexible pouch formats.

1Bureau of Labor Statistics. Workplace Injuries and Illnesses 2011. October 25, 2012. Accessed June 28, 2013: http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/osh.pdf.
2OSHA Fact Sheet. March 2008. Accessed June 27, 2013: http://www.osha.gov/OshDoc/data_General_Facts/OSHAcombustibledust.pdf.
3OSHA Fact Sheet. March 2008. Accessed June 27, 2013: http://www.osha.gov/OshDoc/data_General_Facts/OSHAcombustibledust.pdf.
4NFPA Today. An update for combustible dust at the NFPA Conference and Expo 2013. June 6, 2013. Accessed June 27, 2013: http://www.nfpa.org/AboutTheCodes/AboutTheCodes.asp?docnum=652&tab=docinfo&c. ookie%5Ftest=1

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