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The cost of neglecting functional safety

09 April 2017

You risk ignoring the safety elements of food processing equipment at your peril. As safety regulations change you should consider upgrading the safety features of aging equipment. 

In 2014 in the UK, one large food manufacturer had to pay a £800,000 fine after a serious industrial accident when an engineer was trapped by the machinery while examining a conveyor belt and suffered major injury and ongoing nerve damage. 

An investigation revealed that this accident could have been prevented if a guard was in place on the machine. 
 
In Europe, the Machinery Directive 2006/42/EC requires machinery to be designed and built so it can be used safely. In food processing plants, there are many dangerous machines for which plant managers need to follow safety regulations. Machines such as decanters operate at high centrifugal forces and it is not unknown for the machine's g-forces to reach more than 2000 times gravitational force. This is clearly a dangerous environment for employees to work in, however as these machines are essential for use, the key concept is the management of risk.

In the 1970s, the increase in heavy machinery led to increased use of safety guards and today safety conscious companies undertake a risk analysis in the initial stages of machine development. In the case of decanters, it is not possible to remove the risk, but it is possible to mitigate it to an acceptable level by putting safety guards such as enclosures or emergency stops into place.
 
 “As companies become more knowledgeable about regulations and they become more stringent, the need for retrofitting old equipment with additional safety measures may arise,” said Jorgen Saxeryd, safety products and functional safety advisor to ABB’s food and beverage programme. “Although it may seem instinctive, where there is a dangerous moving machine, the safest answer is not always to shut it away behind an enclosure or barrier.”
 
Saxeryd advises companies to consult functional safety experts who have experience in the sector. Experts should be able to suggest equipment such as light grid, which perform an emergency stop on a machine when a light grid is broken by an object. “These devices are often more appropriate for the food processing sector than using physical guards or barriers as they allow easier access for maintenance and washdown, which is essential for hygiene in food processing plants,” he said.
 
Managers of food processing plants should consider safety as a priority in their plant. From the safety of single pieces of equipment to line safety and then plant safety, plant managers need to be aware of what they can do to mitigate risks. Plant managers not have a responsibility to put in place an accurate safety strategy to protect their employees and they also need to protect their businesses from costly infringements of safety regulations.


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