Maintenance is one of the activities to be carried out in the workplace that can affect the health and safety not only of the workers directly involved, but also that of other workers if safe procedures are not followed and the work properly.
Maintenance activities include, among other procedures, replacement of parts, testing, measurements, repairs, adjustment work, inspections and fault finding. Industrial maintenance operations pose specific risks to the safety of maintenance workers. These risks increase, for example, when it is necessary to work in close proximity to machines and processes, when tasks are executed several times a day, and due to the infrequency of certain tasks.
Food manufacturing encompasses several different industries, from fruit and vegetable processing, through bakeries, milling and dairy processing, to sugar refineries and slaughterhouses. The manufacture of beverages includes the production of beer, wine and spirits, as well as soft drinks and mineral water.
Maintenance (of machines and installation) in the food manufacturer industry is important to ensure:
A safe and healthy work environment
A healthy and hygienic food production
The food sector is under pressure to increase its efficiency in processing, as well as to meet the wishes of consumers who demand more diversified products. Most facilities (57%) have reported running two to three different products per line per day. This requires quick cleaning between runs and is a great challenge for the maintenance team. Furthermore, as factories often cannot afford to stop production for long periods, the workers involved in maintenance have to work on weekends or nights. For maintenance in the food industry the following is required: cost efficiency,
Dangers and preventive measures
The food manufacturer employs different types of workers and the hazards in this industry vary based on the food and beverage industry. But some dangers are common to the entire industry.
1. Dangerous substances
During cleaning and maintenance of production machinery, workers may be exposed to hazardous substances such as disinfectants and lubricants (hot and cold liquids), and to ammonia in refrigeration systems.
Hydraulic lubricants, greases, oils and fluids are necessary to protect both machines and moving parts against wear and corrosion, as well as to avoid high temperatures caused by friction. Lubricants can represent health risks for workers involved in maintenance tasks, as they can cause allergic reactions such as dermatitis or respiratory problems.
Preventive measures: Dangerous substances should be replaced by less dangerous ones, if possible. Maintenance workers should receive training and information on the chemicals they are working with. Adequate protective equipment must be available. Using, for example, disinfectants and lubricants (coolants) or cleaning agents (eg caustic soda, nitric acid) can cause eye injuries and therefore eye protection is required. Emergency measures should be established.
2. Biological agents
Maintenance workers in the food industry are likely to be exposed to biological agents such as:
· Salmonella. It can appear during the slaughter of animals or in the processing of meat, in the dairy industry, in facilities for the processing of fish and shellfish or in places where vegetables are handled that have been treated with organic fertilizers.
· Hepatitis A virus is a potential hazard where mussels, oysters, shellfish or salads that have been produced using organic fertilizers are handled.
Microbiological safety hazards include pathogenic bacteria, viruses, and parasites.
Additionally, maintenance workers may come into contact with sewage. Wastewater from the food industry contains, among other substances, organic matter such as starch, sugars and proteins, fats, oils, and usually also nutrients such as nitrogen (including ammonia) and phosphate. They may also contain biological agents, acids and bleach, disinfectants, and other chemicals.
Preventive measures: With good food manufacturing practices, effective hygiene practices and precise maintenance, both the microbiological safety of food and the health and safety of workers can be guaranteed, such as adequate hygiene of employees, a proper training, and effective cleaning and disinfection of equipment and the manufacturing environment. Training and information on biological hazards should be provided, appropriate personal protective equipment should be provided, and workers should be vaccinated and undergo medical examinations.
In food and beverage manufacturing, explosions and fires may increase due to flammable dust and this can have devastating and irreversible effects. Flour powder, grains, custard powder, soluble coffee, sugar, milk powder, potato powder, and soup powder are some examples of highly flammable powders. Sources of ignition, for example an electric spark that can be produced when pulling out a plug or a hot surface (eg 300 ° C to 600 ° C) can cause explosions.
Preventive measures: The risk of dust explosions can be eliminated or minimized by taking the following measures:
- As they are potential sources of ignition, all electrical equipment installed in these areas must have adequate protection and be designed for handling under these conditions.
- Cleaning and maintenance intervals for equipment with a risk of dust explosion must be programmed so that dust layers of more than 5 mm are not formed. If more dust accumulates, the minimum ignition temperature of the dust is significantly reduced.
- Explosion-proof electrical installations, lights, switches, plugs and sockets should be used in high-risk areas.
- A work authorization system should be used to control hot work, welding, etc.
Dust can also cause respiratory problems such as occupational asthma, as well as irritation of the eyes, nose, and skin (occupational dermatitis).
Preventive measures: Exposure to dust can be controlled:
- With an adequate design of the equipment
- Keeping production equipment in good condition for an effective and efficient service
- Installing an exhaust ventilation system at the source to reduce dust
- Carrying out periodic checks, tests and maintenance of the extraction systems
- With adequate respiratory protection equipment during cleaning and maintenance of the extraction systems
4. Machinery-related accidents
Workers can be injured by machinery due to insufficient or incorrect maintenance, or during machine maintenance. Typical machinery accidents include:
Shock caused by moving parts of the machine, or getting caught in moving parts
Get caught between the moving parts of the machine
Bumps caused by materials or parts that have jumped out of the machine
Workers performing maintenance on the machine can be injured if the machine is accidentally started. They are especially at risk when safety devices have been removed or when they are working under time pressure (working faster than they should).
Preventive measures: The best prevention is to focus on hazards in the design phase of machines and installations. If hazards cannot be eliminated, safe systems for work must be established and enforced, including lockout procedures and work authorization systems.
5. Small spaces
Maintenance workers in the food and beverage industry may have to access confined spaces such as storage tanks, vats, fermentation vats, grape presses, crushers and similar equipment to carry out maintenance, inspection, cleaning work and repair. Working in confined spaces can be very dangerous: Hazards can arise due to a lack of oxygen, the presence of toxic gases, liquids and solids that can suddenly saturate the space (collapse), as well as dust (eg. flour silos) and hot or cold conditions. Poor visibility increases the risk of accidents in confined spaces.
Preventive measures: First of all, it should be avoided to enter confined spaces, for example, carrying out work from outside; If entering a confined space cannot be avoided, a safe system of work should be followed and adequate emergency plans should be put in place before work begins.
6. Slips, trips and falls
Slips, trips and falls are the leading causes of accidents in the food and beverage industry. Slip injuries, in particular, are more prevalent in this industry than in most others, mostly due to damp, contaminated and greasy floors (eg with food).
Preventive measures: Prevent spills through the design of equipment and proper maintenance, keep walkways and work surfaces clean and dry, and provide workers with non-slip footwear, where these key aspects are still necessary to prevent slips, trips and falls.
7. Work that requires physical effort
Maintenance in food manufacturing is work that can be physically demanding. Workers involved in maintenance are at risk of developing musculoskeletal diseases because often, while performing maintenance on machines, they have to work in awkward positions that are difficult to access or have to enter tight spaces.
Preventive measures: Machines and equipment with a good ergonomic design help to minimize the risk of suffering from musculoskeletal diseases. Workers can play an active role in the process of preventing these diseases by participating in training and being involved in planning and implementing changes to tasks or jobs.
8. Heat and cold
In some subsectors of food and beverage manufacturing, you have to work under extreme temperatures. Bakeries, industrial kitchens, and dryers-smokers are some of the workplaces where it can get very hot.
Cold and humid workplaces are common in the meat and poultry processing industry, as well as in the dairy industry; Extremely cold working conditions are found in the frozen and refrigerated food industry or in the production of lyophilized products. Processing of freeze-dried coffee extract requires intensive cleaning and maintenance to ensure uninterrupted production.
Preventive measures: The risks associated with working at extreme temperatures can be minimized by regulating the duration of exposure, taking periodic breaks and, if necessary, wearing suitable thermal clothing and specialized personal protective clothing. Enterable refrigeration and freezer units should be provided with adequate exit routes. Doors should be capable of being opened from the inside and provided with lighting so that the door is visible once closed.
9. Psychosocial risk factors
Maintenance workers often work under time pressure, have a different schedule than others (relay work), do not receive sufficient instructions, work in uncomfortable conditions and in case maintenance is outsourced, they are sometimes unfamiliar with the work environment. Under these working conditions, maintenance workers can experience job stress.
Preventive measures: Both time and resources have to be realistic for maintenance work. Workers must receive training and information on their job and on safe work procedures.
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