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Protecting bakery workers

Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) is a major issue in the bread products industry.

Mixing machines, hot ovens and large heavy baking trays for doing hundreds of loaves or muffins at a time, are all potential hazards.

Bread product manufacturers’ responses to this are largely a matter of scale.

Automation

Industrial bakers, companies making hundreds of thousands of loaves of bread, muffins and the like every day, are tending towards automated systems like those produced by Australian company Auto-Bake Serpentine.

Local bakeries are also trying to remove the human factor but on a much smaller scale.

Automation is by far the most obvious trend in industrial bakeries, Auto-Bake general manager Mark Appleford said.

“Trying to make equipment safe by minimising human intervention is a definite trend.

“For example, with our systems, flour [and other ingredients are] dropped from silos into mixers, the mixers operate, the batter goes into our lines and, essentially, the finished product comes out without human intervention at all.

“It comes out as a baked product, then it goes onto conveyers and off for freezing, cooling or packaging and there’s barely a human hand intervening.”

The move to automation is driven by cost efficiency in terms of reducing the number of staff but an even greater efficiency is the reduction in worker’s compensation claims resulting from automation.

“With rack ovens, you open the door, push the product in and when it’s done you pull it out.

“In that process there are potentially people getting burnt, getting hands mashed in doors, not picking racks up properly and getting back injuries,” said Appleford.

“One of our American customers produces 250,000 muffins an hour using Auto-Bake’s systems.

“It was only doing a third of that with rack ovens and one of its biggest savings has been worker’s compensation.”

While trends towards automation can simply shift the OH&S risk from production to maintenance there are ways to compensate.

“Whenever you have to maintain something there is the chance of an accident plus the cost of having the line down,” explained Appleford.

“This can be minimised in simple ways , for example, by using high-end greases in the machines, which only need application once a month instead of every day.

“There is also cleaning in process (CIP), sanitising the line while it’s running using sprayers, etc.”

Communication

However, the majority of bread in Australia is still made by the small end of town; suburban bakeries run by a handful of people.

In these environments automation is not economical so the focus shifts back to human beings, and how management communicates and executes OH&S systems, explained Baker’s Delight Holdings human resources and training manager Craig King.

“When someone takes up a Baker’s Delight franchise they get a number of systems including an OH&S system for the bakery.”

“Baker’s Delight has done hazard risk analysis for all the commonly used equipment in its bakeries.

“Franchisees are then able to do a customised risk analysis using templates provided by Baker’s Delight.”

“Once a risk analysis has been done,” said King, “it’s all about training your staff and reducing risks”.

“We used to have mixing bowls with no lids on them but now they have guards so that as soon as someone opens the lid, the machine turns itself off.

“Ergonomics is also an issue,” he said

“There’s constant lifting involved in running a bakery so we’ve reduced packaging from 25kg to 12.5kg so people can manage the lifting more easily.”

Ultimately, communication is the most important innovation.

“If companies are not communicating OH&S and constantly reviewing systems, then they’re not going to keep up the pace, and productivity and morale will be down,” King said.

“But it’s also a shared responsibility, there needs to be a feedback loop, innovation from the top down and also from the bottom up.”

Approach

WSP Risk Solutions general manager Genevieve Hawkins belives that whether the bakery is an industrial operation or a suburban bakery, the important thing is not to treat OH&S as something that needs to be done to stay out of trouble.

“It’s often done as a formal format with OH&S committees and all those sorts of things, or it’s just ignored, said Hawkins.

“But the way to approach OH&S is not to take a ‘what do we need to do to legally comply’ approach, but a ‘what do we need to do to run our business effectively and manage the risk we have’ approach.”

There are also sound business reasons for approaching worker safety in this way.

“If someone is injured at work, worker’s compensation premiums are going to increase, which is a direct cost to the bottom line.

“The injured worker may be off work for some time and will need to be replaced, so there’s recruitment costs, training costs, all those things come in to cover someone while they’re injured,” she said

“From a business management point of view it’s just not cost effective to keep injuring people at work.”

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