Considerable research, history and experience when it comes to safety plans and programs for the beverage industry have established respect and appreciation for the complex nature and broad scope involved with the subject. Because safety has many aspects, the focus here is directed primarily toward physical facilities, personnel protection and approaches for establishing and managing a safe environment.

Research indicates that, for the past 50 years, most industries have had some form of plan or program in place for addressing their accidents, injuries and interpretation of safety. Because so many variations of these practices existed, it necessitated forming government agencies to develop rules, regulations, best practices and standards pertaining to safe environments under categorized working conditions. In addition to these agencies (OSHA, FDA, FSMA and others), many companies were created to provide supplies and materials to comply with agency regulations and standards.

Then, Constant Change Syndrome took over: beverage production facilities now have new designs, logistics, functions, and advanced technology that have progressed in machinery/equipment and processing systems. All these factors have had an impact on the safety environment that must be established and maintained in any beverage operation. With the physical facility changes, personnel working in an entirely new set of conditions also are confronted with adhering to safe practices and a protective environment.

An approach taken by many beverage producers/distributors is to use outside help: government agencies, specialized consultants, material manufacturer’s experts or other producers’ experience. This might be the right approach for a given set of operating conditions and a particular management philosophy regarding safety.

From an operations perspective, when deciding what action to take in setting up a plan for creating a totally safe working environment, it must be realized that a due-diligence approach by plant employees is practical, simple and conditionally knowledgeable. This entails use of a competent plant engineer or equal to address basic questions: what are the actual operating conditions in our facility?; are conditions in compliance with regulations and standards?; and are actions needed to make sure within compliance?

To provide answers, the employee in charge of the safety action must be thoroughly conversant with the agencies and regulations pertaining to that type of plant. Because of the vast number of agencies, not every source is directly applicable to a manufacturer’s type of products. To reach this point in assessing whether or not the conditions are safe, one important factor is absolute in ensuring a high degree of success — a committed safety philosophy that is instituted by top management. Unless that exists, the time, effort and investment needed to ensure a safe environment might not come together. Actual experience proves this.

Using the due-diligence approach, the focus is directed at the two major segments of any plan: the safety of the facility and the adequate protection of the people.

New facilities have the advantage of designing all of the necessary safety features when being built; therefore, the audit and analysis steps here relate to existing situations.

Plant safety is best evaluated by breaking down the entire facility into areas, then analyzing each area for compliance with regulations and standards for the type of activity performed in that area. Items for evaluation include lighting, heating/ventilation, workspace, accessibility and emergency action provisions.

Using historical accident and/or injury data is important when evaluating a plant. It provides background of the events to help make whatever corrections are required.

In areas where machinery/equipment is installed and operated or attended to by people, the evaluation needs to assess the handling of materials used at the machine operation.

To whatever degree automation advances, the machinery/equipment and computerized systems are still operated or attended to by workers. Two views should be considered: is the area safe, and is the person protected?

Work areas around operating equipment can become hazardous cubicles. Culprits of these include makeshift steps, broken mats, un-jamming crowbars and package material wraps. Workers should make sure these items do not interfere with the equipment operator and machine cleaners, and maintenance mechanics also should ensure the safety of their workstations.

Protecting people at any workstation in a beverage-producing plant is top priority of the program. Items such as safety shoes, glasses and gloves become mandatory, and even hard hats under some conditions. Proper uniforms, nothing open or loose fitting, also promotes a safe environment.

By operating in a safe plant environment and being protected from dangerous conditions, a plant should be proud of having no lost-time accidents or injuries caused by non-compliance. BI