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November 13, 2009

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National Food and Drink Manufacture Conference- Delivering the message

Communication is vital for health and safety in a dynamically changing industry — that message was delivered loud and clear when leading professionals from the European and UK food and drink manufacture industry came together in September.

The national food and drink manufacture health and safety conference was hosted by the IOSH Food and Drink Group at Nottingham’s Crowne Plaza Hotel, with support from the HSE and the Food and Drink Manufacture Health and Safety Forum. The conference focused on delivering a clear and precise health and safety message to support managers and supervisors as they work to ensure good practice among staff, visitors and contractors.

Conference chair and HSE board member David Gartside noted rapid changes and increasing diversity, both in the type and size of businesses, and in a growing migrant workforce. Outlining the HSE’s new strategy, he encouraged businesses to show their commitment by signing its pledge at www.hse.gov.uk/strategy/pledge.htm

While many factors — such as unfamiliarity, inexperience, or cultural differences — can affect a worker’s vulnerability, communication issues emerged as a major cause. Jeremy Bevan, HSE senior policy advisor for vulnerable-worker health and safety, explained how the HSE has supplemented its guidance and is working to provide more detailed guidance for small and medium-sized firms employing migrant workers.

Bevan said particular attention should be paid to the measures employers put in place to control risk, as this is where gaps in communication can lead to a poor understanding of safety issues, resulting in workplace accidents. He urged employers to think not only about what they should be doing, but also about what else they could be doing to help vulnerable workers. Simple measures such as using photographs to illustrate hazards can be very effective, he said, but special attention must also be paid to supervision, both in training employees and monitoring them to make sure they’ve understood that training.

The message was driven home by Alastair Mitchell, HM inspector of health and safety for the agriculture and food sector at the HSE, who underlined the importance of training for supervisors, so they can deliver the best guidance to employees. And there were plenty of examples of good practice over the course of the two days. Simon Hatson of Britvic Soft Drinks, Roy Whitford, Jack O’Neill and Graham Gilmour of R Twining & Company, and Neil Catton of G’s The Shropshire Group, who is also vice-chair of the IOSH Food and Drink Group, each demonstrated the passion for communication, training and leadership in a multicultural environment at their organisations.

There’s plenty more to do, though. Xabier Irastorza, project officer at the risk observatory unit of the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA), told delegates there is a lack of strong data on health and safety for migrant workers. Outlining EU-OSHA’s continuing work in this area, he stressed the need for more research into which workers are vulnerable and how they can be protected.

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