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EXCLUSIVE Dusting off the hazards in the food industry

18 January 2013

The food industry is as vulnerable to hazardous risks as any other but the hygiene demands from retailers mean it has to be particularly careful. David Strydom asked several experts for their opinions.

Diversified technology company 3M recently hosted a free webinar on hazards and the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in the food and beverage industry. The webinar was led by technical service engineers Sarah Broadbent and Jennifer Raymond of the 3M Safety Solutions Division, as part of the company's 'safety spotlight' series.

Sarah explains: "Health and Safety professionals working in food and beverage manufacturing environments face a particular set of challenges and it is vital to ensure the protection of the worker against potential hazards and the maintenance of strict hygiene standards.

"Specialist PPE often needs to be considered in the food and beverage industry. This webinar will outline some of the potential hazards such as noise hazards and particulate hazards like flour or grain dust and help with the selection of appropriate and adequate PPE."

Jennifer adds: "Developments in PPE innovation over recent years means there is now a range of specialist products to choose from that combat specific industry issues. For example, products can be individually packaged to prevent contamination before use, and blue in colour to make them highly visible."

Dust extraction specialists Dustcontrol UK recently launched an offering for maintenance teams working on refurbishment projects in the UK. The company, based in Northamptonshire has brought out a series of mobile dust extractors and air cleaners designed to help those working on refurbishment projects capture dust at its source.

The products provide a cleaner working environment, create a more efficient production process, while also limiting disruption to the organisation in question who's having the refurbishment work done.

''When you walk into the majority of food processing production plants in the UK today, you'll see an abundance of cheap mobile dust extractors,'' says James Miller, MD of Dustcontrol UK. ''Great, at least they're trying to do something about their dust situation. But in large production plants these can become more of a nuisance than provide any real assistance.

''The mobile dust extractors are often not cleaned and looked after properly, because nobody is wanting to take responsibility for them. So therefore they require a lot of maintenance attention and often under-perform wasting valuable time. They're a health and safety and hazard nightmare with electric leads stretching across the production floor. Their filtration is often not up to a good standard meaning that fine dust is pumped back into the work environment.

''The best way for any food processing production plant to address the issue of dust is to install centralised vacuum systems for source extraction and vacuum cleaning. These can fit into the building in question, and have a number of plug-in points running off them, avoiding the need for messy leads running everywhere. The systems can run 24 hours, have energy saving control systems and even clean themselves. They don't have to be huge and can even be designed to service individual product lines to fit in with commonly lower Capex budgets.

''With this in mind, coupled with other factors such as increased staff morale (working in a cleaner safer environment), better product quality (no dust trapped in packaging seals etc), and less reliance on maintenance teams (fixing issues created by the build up of dust on machinery parts), centralised vacuum systems can eradicate the dust issue providing a cost-effective hazard free green solution.''

Chilworth Global, meanwhile, says historically, a 'blanket zoning' approach was taken by many companies for the hazardous areas outside process equipment, especially for flammable gases. This was often justified because the zoning had only formal implications for electrical equipment and most of that equipment was suitable for Zone 1 areas as a minimum.

However since the introduction of ATEX 137 all equipment including mechanical equipment has to meet certain requirements for use in designated hazardous areas with an associated potential cost impact when purchasing new equipment, or assessing existing equipment.

This is especially important for many facilities handling flammable dusts, which were not formally zoned before ATEX came into force. In such facilities, the amount of potentially unsuitable equipment that is now subject to the ATEX requirements relates directly to the extent of the external hazardous areas.

"Keeping it in the pipe" reduces or eliminates external hazardous areas with the following advantages: reduced risk of secondary dust explosions, improved housekeeping and reduced equipment costs. The following example shows the potential cost saving available by "keeping it in the pipe". Here, a secondary silicone seal was installed to capture powder leakage from the primary seal and eliminate the secondary grade of release.

The following costs were associated with the secondary seal installation: cost of silicone seal (£1500), cost of installation of secondary silicone seal (£8700), maintenance cost per year for the secondary silicone seal (£950), estimated cost of replacing electrical equipment within external 1 metre Zone 22 from flexible seals including electrical motors (£36000), and indicative cost saving (£24850).

Whenever possible, technical measures should be used to prevent external hazardous areas says Chilworth. Although these may seem expensive at the time of installation the potential savings can far outweigh the cost of installation.

The threat from fire in food manufacturing plants is high - certain processes are prone to combustion, technology is susceptible to overheating, and fires become hard to suppress says David Howard of System Sensor However factory managers no longer need to be concerned about the impact of false alarms, he says.

''Until recently, managers at food manufacturing plants have had to rely on traditional fire detection systems which are not capable of meeting the progressive challenges and tough environmental conditions of today's modern manufacturing processes. Dust, grain, flour and steam particles, typical in many food and beverage facilities, are often incorrectly analysed by traditional detectors as a fire, leading to a false alarm being raised and severe disruption as staff evacuation takes place, fire protection and suppression systems may have to be released and professional clean-up is required.

''However, factory managers will be encouraged by System Sensor's recent pioneering technological developments to create an intelligent and ultra-sensitive aspiration detection system, which is immune from false alarms and only requires the legislated maintenance set out in the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order and current Code of Practice.

''This modern dual detection technology and unique process of particle separation provides manufacturers with the earliest possible warning of a potential fire, offering more time to investigate a threat, understand it, move stock and equipment and extinguish before greater damage occurs, thereby saving enormous costs. Furthermore, as these devices have been IP-enabled, they can deliver immediate notification of an alarm to multiple e-mail addresses, allowing factory managers to remotely monitor the plant from anywhere in the world. These technological advances mean the choice of fire detection systems in food manufacturing plants is now clear.''

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