Informa Markets

Author Bio ▼

Safety and Health Practitioner (SHP) is first for independent health and safety news.
August 17, 2022

Get the SHP newsletter

Daily health and safety news, job alerts and resources


“Automation is great, but don’t forget health and safety”, urges industry expert

Doug Russell, an experienced health and safety professional and committee member of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health’s (IOSH) Food and Drink Industries Group, admits that the increasing use of automation in food and drink manufacturing can bring significant benefits to businesses. However, he is urging for caution and calling on industry bosses to ensure they assess and manage any health and safety risks they can cause. SHP hears more below…

“The focus of the discussion on Industry 4.0 in food manufacturing so far has been on ways of predicting and meeting consumer demand and on improvements to traceability to ensure quality and safety of products,” says Russell. “For example, it has been about assisting with product recall or consumer information on products.

“These are all exciting developments but, as automation and the use of AI and data analytics spreads, the reality is that human workers will still be there working alongside the robots. Increased intensity of work to keep pace with machine-led production and unforeseen consequences of increased reliance on algorithms to control and dictate workers’ behaviour will undoubtedly impact on their physical and mental health.

“To ensure sustainable development of Industry 4.0 in such a labour-intensive sector, it is vital that the risks are managed and that workers and their safety reps are involved in the planning and introduction of new technologies.”

As part of the IOSH group committee, Russell is among the organisers of their Food and Drink Industry Conference. One of the key sessions at the event, being held on Tuesday 4 October at Chesford Grange Hotel in Warwickshire, is on Industry 4.0 and being led by David Butter, Head of the Manufacturing Sector at the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Industry 4.0 is said to be revolutionising how businesses in manufacturing make and distribute their goods, using new technologies, including AI and machines to do this, helping to offer significant benefits for organisations.

Russell and others on the organising committee were keen to add this topic to the conference programme to ensure management of risks coming from working with these novel technologies is considered, discussed and introduced from their earliest adoption, preventing workers from risk of harm.

“Introduction of robotics, autonomous vehicles, cobots and so on will have a massive impact on health and safety of the workers who remain in the industry,” adds Russell. “Increased use of AI and digital data will also impact heavily on productivity and monitoring of the workers.

“There are obvious issues around MSDs (musculoskeletal disorders) and stress, and employers will still have a duty to risk assess and manage as the changes are introduced.

“David Butter leads the advanced manufacturing and Industry 4.0 portfolio at HSE and has agreed to speak at the conference. He is keen to start a discussion about Industry 4.0 in the food industry so that we don’t forget about the occupational safety and health of the workers who have to work alongside these technologies.”

David Butter said: “the food and drink industry has faced an enormous challenge working through the pandemic and I saw how just how progressive the industry could be by working through the issues it faced.

“The same thought processes will need to be applied to Industry 4.0 technologies as they are introduced to the factory floor. The key, as always, is to understand how the technologies can affect the health, safety and welfare of workers and implement controls to reduce any risks as far as is reasonably practicable.”

Butter added: “The technologies may be new, but often the risks are not. But to protect people and places and help everyone lead safer and healthier lives, we need to identify any new risks and develop controls for them. I envisage this session to be the start of a discussion for the industry to reflect on how technologies have been implemented in the past and whether there will be new challenges to overcome in the future.”

It is the first time in three years IOSH has held the conference, with the COVID-19 pandemic causing the hiatus. Called ‘Emergence, Endurance, Transformation’, it is themed around how the industry is emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic and looking to the future, particularly focusing on new and emerging health and safety risks and how they can be controlled.

The conference will include various sessions, all of which are aimed at providing delegates with practical examples of sensible, pragmatic and effective health and safety solutions which enhance the way people are protected in the workplace. The event aims to support professionals in improving their own work performance and support businesses.

For information, including how to book tickets, check out the conference page here.

The Safety Conversation Podcast: Listen now!

The Safety Conversation with SHP (previously the Safety and Health Podcast) aims to bring you the latest news, insights and legislation updates in the form of interviews, discussions and panel debates from leading figures within the profession.

Find us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Google Podcasts, subscribe and join the conversation today!

Related Topics

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments