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A floored argument

03 July 2017

Sue Springett explains the importance of making the right matting choices, to improve plant hygiene and ensure staff health. 

There is so much to consider in the day-to-day running of a food processing business that it is easy to forget what might, at first, appear to be the more mundane elements. Flooring choices can play a significant role in helping to improve factory hygiene and the long-term health of staff.

Typically, the bulk of the food production workforce will spend a good portion of the day on their feet, particularly those on the production floor. The end result can be a variety of health complaints such as muscle aches, swollen feet, and varicose veins. This can have an impact on the bottom line in terms of work days lost to ill-health. The worst-case scenario is an injury claim as the result of a slip, trip, or fall. When you break down the figures, it really is worthwhile to consider how you can deploy matting to protect your staff – and the business. 

Slips, trips and falls
Regardless of how well managed your production line is, an environment that handles any form of liquid or juices in terms of ingredients or by-products is going to bring with it an increased risk. To place this in context, slips, trips and falls are the third most common cause of sick days, and more alarmingly, the fourth leading cause of work-related deaths. 

Injuries relating to low level falls are costly. In 2011 the cumulative cost of same level falls in the UK amounted to around £11 billion. That averaged out to over £33k per slip or fall claim and £68k per head injury claim.  National Safety Council figures show that the number of claims almost doubled (at a rise of 42%) in the first decade of this century. While there’s little doubt this can be attributed to the rise in Conditional Fee Agreements (CFAs), more commonly known as ‘no-win-no-fee’ service models, it is a trend that cannot be ignored.  
As compensation culture has become a greater concern for employers, investing in products that will minimise slip hazards and/or reduce the physical impact should a fall happen has become prudent. From that perspective, it will likely come as no great surprise to learn matting ranges are fast becoming one of the biggest sellers in the Teknomek catalogue. Mats can be used in dry, wet and oily environments as a means to improve health as well as safety.

Specialist anti-fatigue matting is now available which, as well as offering improved grip, is designed to offer muscle relief during long shifts or extended periods of standing. This results from the mat’s design which features rubber domes and nitrile-infused sponge backing to create a flexible and supportive surface under foot, to aid muscle health while standing. 

A great deal of physiological research has gone into this product-set and there’s demonstrable evidence of its benefits. Electromyographic (EMG) testing assesses the condition of muscles and the motor neurons that control them, this has shown that anti-fatigue matting improves muscle activity by around 50%, as compared to subjects standing on concrete floors. Moreover, results in the workplace speak for themselves – businesses have reported a drop in absenteeism by almost a quarter (23%) one year on from installing the mats. 

The hygiene factor
The health and well-being of the workforce should be a key concern for any manager. However, in the food industry the end customer must always be of equal importance. Therefore, every aspect of the design and layout of a workplace handling foodstuffs must be carefully assessed in relation to the risks of harbouring or transferring harmful bacteria or germs. The flooring and matting used can play an important role in helping to reduce microbial contamination. Anti-fatigue matting available from Teknomek supports food hygiene standards and is autoclavable up to 121°C for maximum bacteria control.

The placement of matting also needs consideration. A combination of matting types can be deployed at key points throughout a facility to improve hygiene for the long-term as part of a cumulative strategy. While the production floor will always be the over-riding priority, it is also sensible to consider how dirt could potentially make it into a hygiene-controlled environment in the first place. 

Sanitising sole footbath mats are an increasingly common feature to help prevent contamination between areas. While boot washes establish primary levels of defence against cross contamination, placing footbaths between areas delivers additional hygiene control at no additional time cost for staff.  Easy to handle, they can be filled with the sanitising solution of choice, reinforcing the company culture of maintaining hygiene routines at every stage of a shift – not just at point of entry. 

For dry production areas, it is worth bearing in mind that dirt is not just transferred from one area to another on footwear.  Airborne particles are another concern, this is one that can be countered with sticky tack matting. As well as catching and holding onto dust and dirt on contact to remove 98% of contaminants from shoes, the smooth vinyl polymer surface also attracts those airborne particles electromagnetically. This matting is now available as a permanent fixture, and can be cleaned with mild detergent to restore tackiness.

Establishing the right hygiene culture comes down to thinking about the detail. It’s always worth considering the minutia because what may appear to be a minor design decision can have major implications when working with food. Ultimately, something as pedestrian as a mat can improve the health of your staff, reduce business risk, reinforce hygiene messages and, perhaps most importantly, help to minimise stress levels come audit time. 

Sue Springett is commercial manager at Teknomek.

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