The cost of func­tional safety for food pro­cess­ing

DEMM Engineering & Manufacturing - - FOOD AND BEVERAGE -


In 2014 in the UK, a large food man­u­fac­turer had to pay a £800,000 fine af­ter a se­ri­ous in­dus­trial ac­ci­dent. An en­gi­neer was trapped by the ma­chin­ery while ex­am­in­ing a con­veyor belt and suf­fered ma­jor in­jury and on­go­ing nerve dam­age. An in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­vealed that this dan­ger­ous ac­ci­dent could have been pre­vented if a guard was in place on the ma­chine. Here, Jor­gen Sax­eryd, safety prod­ucts and func­tional safety ad­vi­sor to ABB’s food and bev­er­age pro­gram ex­plains how safety pro­ce­dures must be de­vel­oped in food pro­cess­ing plants.

Across the globe, there are a va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent reg­u­la­tions for food pro­cess­ing plants. In par­tic­u­lar, North Amer­ica and Europe have strict reg­u­la­tions for safety in these po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous en­vi­ron­ments. This also ap­plies to the safety of em­ploy­ees in the pro­cess­ing plants and em­ploy­ers who fail to make ad­e­quate safety con­sid­er­a­tions can face large fines. Not only can these authorities en­force these in the case of ac­ci­dents, they can also be en­forced dur­ing reg­u­lar in­spec­tions.

In Europe, the Ma­chin­ery Di­rec­tive 2006/42/EC re­quires ma­chin­ery to be de­signed and built so it can be used safely. In food pro­cess­ing plants, there are many dan­ger­ous ma­chines for which plant man­agers should fol­low safety reg­u­la­tions, or the plants may face clo­sure or high fines. Ma­chines such as de­canters op­er­ate at high cen­trifu­gal forces and it is not un­known for the ma­chine’s g-forces to reach more than 2000 times grav­i­ta­tional force. This is clearly a dan­ger­ous en­vi­ron­ment for em­ploy­ees to work in, how­ever as these ma­chines are es­sen­tial for use, the key con­cept is the man­age­ment of risk.

In the 1970s, the in­crease in heavy ma­chin­ery such as the cre­ation of the steel press led to in­creased safety guards. Since then, many safety conscious com­pa­nies un­der­take a risk anal­y­sis in the ini­tial stages of ma­chine de­vel­op­ment. In the case of de­canters, it is not pos­si­ble to re­move the risk, but it is pos­si­ble to mit­i­gate the risk to an ac­cept­able level by putting safety guards such as en­clo­sures or emer­gency stops into place.

Of­ten, com­pa­nies find it too dif­fi­cult to man­age the com­plex world of safety reg­u­la­tions alone. In this case, it is al­ways bet­ter to con­sult pro­fes­sional ser­vices rather than to not com­ply with the reg­u­la­tions, as this will work out to be a costly mis­take. ABB’s ex­perts can pro­vide spe­cific ad­vice on reg­u­la­tions, which also takes into ac­count the needs of food pro­cess­ing plants.

As com­pa­nies be­come more knowl­edge­able about reg­u­la­tions and reg­u­la­tions be­come more strin­gent, the need for retrofitting old equip­ment with ad­di­tional safety mea­sures may arise. Al­though it may seem in­stinc­tive, where there is a dan­ger­ous mov­ing ma­chine, the safest an­swer is not al­ways to shut it away be­hind an en­clo­sure or bar­rier.

In the food pro­cess­ing in­dus­try, com­pa­nies should con­sult func­tional safety ex­perts who have ex­pe­ri­ence in the sec­tor. The ex­perts will for ex­am­ple sug­gest equip­ment such as light grid, which per­form an emer­gency stop on a ma­chine when a light grid is bro­ken by an object. These de­vices are more ap­pro­pri­ate for the food pro­cess­ing sec­tor than us­ing physical guards or bar­ri­ers as they al­low eas­ier ac­cess for main­te­nance and wash­down, which is es­sen­tial for hy­giene in food pro­cess­ing plants.

Man­agers of food pro­cess­ing plants in all coun­tries, re­gard­less of the coun­try’s reg­u­la­tions, should con­sider safety as a pri­or­ity in their plant. From the safety of sin­gle pieces of equip­ment to line safety and then plant safety, plant man­agers need to be aware of what they can do to mit­i­gate risks. Plant man­agers not only have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to put in place an ac­cu­rate safety strat­egy to pro­tect their em­ploy­ees, but they also need to pro­tect their busi­nesses from costly in­fringe­ments of world­wide safety reg­u­la­tions, as proven in the many cases gone by.

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