There’s something in a bakery or snack facility that’s more important than production. It’s called safety. Not only does this apply to food, but it also incorporates employees. If proper procedures are not followed, employees can get hurt running machinery despite the equipment safety measures in place, affecting a company in numerous ways.  

In addition to a primary concern for the well-being of the person who was injured, a company’s morale can suffer in an accident, not to mention the legal and production implications that can follow.

“Depending on the level of the incident, it can have a large impact on production,” said Mitch Lindsey, senior sales account manager, Burford Corp. “This can be in lost labor, time or product due to the delay.”

Companies must run an investigation when an accident takes place.

“Generally, if an incident occurs, it stops production,” said Bill Kehrli, vice-president of sales and marketing, Cavanna Packaging. “You have to investigate and see if there are ways in which you can improve production to prevent that from happening again.”

Although injuries can happen virtually anywhere during production, most don’t occur because a machine didn’t have proper safety features, especially when it comes to packaging equipment.

For example, new technology ensures a door cannot close if a person is inside a certain area. Some even have electric beams going across the machine so the company can see if anything is blocking its ability to start, Mr. Kerhli said.

If a machine does not have a guard permanently attached to exposed moving parts, it needs a safety interlock, Mr. Lindsey said.

“With new technology, we can use interlocks for smaller guards that may have been hard mounted before, making it quicker for maintenance to access, saving time,” he added. Emergency stops are also essential in an operator interface area.

BluePrint Automation (BPA) meets Category III (PLd) safety requirements, which means the packaging system is designed so that any internal problems won’t lead to a loss of a safety function.

“We also eliminate all energy sources when a person enters the machine,” said Chung-Chee Tai, vice-president of engineering, BPA. “The safety features are provided with redundancy.”

He also noted there is an emphasis on electrical safety such as arc flashes, separation of high and low voltage, ergonomic, max weight, and repeated motion awareness.

As a European manufacturer, Cavanna Packaging follows Conformité Européenne (CE) regulations. Mr. Kehrli said the language of CE regulations are more stringent than the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements. For example, a guard must be sealed if someone can stick a finger in between it and the machine. If a baked product enters or exits the equipment, it must have a tunnel guard that’s 800 mm from the hazard. Guards must be on each side of the machine, even underneath.

“Now we’re almost at the point where, because it’s CE, there’s no possible way anyone could get hurt with the guarding,” he said. “When bakers are looking at making a capital investment, they need to look to Europe for guidance on what direction safety is going.”

Workers’ responsibility

The “I won’t get hurt” mentality is often what leads to employee harm. Mr. Tai said common sense is required around machines, but sometimes employees will bypass a safety door switch and get injured or go inside a machine and get trapped or even walk over machines for quicker access and fall.

Mr. Kehrli recalled that 10 years ago, shortcuts included leaving doors open during shifts, sometimes so that maintenance could look into the equipment while it was running.

“Even though you have a mechanical key to open the door, there are now automatic switches that prevent the equipment from running,” he explained. “So how do people do shortcuts now? They’re bypassing switches. If there’s a will, there’s a way to get hurt.”

New regulations, especially from Europe, forbid employees to reach inside the machine to grab or rearrange a product.

“It’s good in the fact that it’s safe,” Mr. Kehrli said. “What’s bad is when there’s an improper product that will cause a jam in the packaging machine. You then have to add a further layer of automation to overcome that problem, and it hurts operators’ ability to interact with production.

“Say it’s a cartoner, for example. What the operator used to do to clear a potential jam, they may no longer have accessibility to that section. And further upstream, equipment must be put in place, and that might be so easy. So, we see a lot of people sticking with legacy equipment to avoid these problems.”

Some additional automation includes X-ray systems to inspect the product and a device that can remove the jammed product. Although this technology is readily available and has eliminated the need to reach in and grab product, it does use up time, money and space.

To reduce employee errors with packaging machines that lead to injuries, a primary strategy is to create awareness and provide ongoing training.

Employees should be taught to lock out/tag out, visually and verbally confirm that no one is in the area when starting a machine, be aware of their surroundings, and work smart, Mr. Lindsey said.

They should also verify that the machines are accessible.

“Too many machines are packed too close together and, therefore, result in safety hazards such as crossing over a conveyor,” Mr. Tai said.

Even the basics about working around machines should be a part of training.

“People may think that they’re trying to help production by bypassing a safety feature to unjam a product, but they wind up getting hurt,” Mr. Kehrli said. “Or they get tired after eight to 12 hours, and they take a shortcut. Tired workers are not safe workers.”

Safe workers create a safe and efficient company culture. Machines’ safety features are in place, now all baking and snack companies have to do is train employees to act responsibly during production and verify they’re taking no shortcuts along the way.