How health and safety helps staff to feel cared for. By Kevin Rowe

No UK food and drink business can succeed without talented people on their team, and the very best talent can be hard to keep hold of when higher-profile or higher-paid roles are potentially available. As such, companies need to find other ways of ensuring their staff feel happy, motivated and committed to their work – and a strong policy on workplace health and safety can make a big difference.

Many business owners regard health and safety as a regulatory necessity rather than a value-adding selling point, but the reality is that a diligent approach to safety can deliver tangible benefits to your working culture. It ensures that all members of staff feel cared for, valued and, by giving them important responsibilities, trusted.

As such, any company looking for a simple yet effective way to enhance morale and bolster staff loyalty should consider safer working practices to be a key focus area. It may not seem all that exciting on paper, but in practice, there are few better ways to show your staff the love they deserve.

The importance of health and safety in food and drink production
Work in food and drink production can be seriously hazardous – especially for those involved in the more industrialised methods of food manufacturing.

Data collated by the Health and Safety Executive show that the overall injury rate for the sector has dropped by over 50 per cent since 1990-91 – but even so, this line of work still accounts for one-quarter of all manufacturing injuries, with the overall injury rate remaining higher than the average for manufacturing industries in general.

Standard commercial kitchens are filled with items and equipment that can easily cause serious physical harm to staff members, including sharp blades, boiling liquids, high-temperature cooking appliances and raw foodstuffs carrying harmful bacteria. When also taking into account the high-speed industrial machinery used in large-scale food production, it becomes clear just how many risks food-service workers have to encounter on a daily basis.

Moreover, the fast-paced, high-pressure nature of food production and the focus on efficient service can exacerbate the risk of mistakes, resulting in injuries to staff members, or – just as seriously – health hazards being created for customers. This is why health and safety plays such an important role in creating a caring work culture.

The impact of health and safety on staff
By investing in workplace health and safety, your business can transform its working culture in ways that will empower and motivate staff. Here are just some of the benefits this can deliver:

Reduced rates of injury and illness
The key function of health and safety protocols is to prevent staff from getting injured or falling ill as a result of their work. Working in an environment where staff are aware there are protocols in place to reduce the risk of slips, trips, burns or lacerations will inevitably create a happier professional environment and greater morale.

Reduced rate of absences
By taking steps to keep your staff healthy, you can reduce the number of absences in your workplace, which will help to improve productivity and reduce disruption. After all, unplanned absences create additional pressure and workloads for everyone in your organisation, so it’s in everyone’s best interests to avoid them.

Better results for your business
Keeping everyone healthy and working efficiently isn’t just its own reward – it can deliver significant bottom-line benefits for the whole organisation, allowing your staff to focus on delivering higher-quality work and contribute more actively to the company’s success. This allows your business to achieve greater profitability, from which every member of staff can ultimately benefit.

A better reputation
Becoming known as a workplace that’s committed to health and safety is a highly desirable status that’s hard to attain and easy to lose. If you can demonstrate this, you’ll be in a great position to retain your existing workers and attract the very best talent from elsewhere, which will help generate even more success.

Steps you can take to improve
With these significant benefits in mind, improving health and safety should be seen as a top priority for any ambitious organisation in the food and drinks industry. You can get this process started with a few basic steps:

Conduct a risk assessment
First of all, you should conduct a risk assessment exercise to determine potential hazards within your working processes, analyse the kind of harm they could cause, and identify appropriate ways to either eliminate or control these risks. This process should be comprehensive and honest – admitting that problems exist is the first step to solving them.

Develop a solid plan of action
Once the risks have been identified, you’ll need to put together a wide-ranging health and safety strategy that accounts for every foreseeable danger and gives staff a means to mitigating them. Ad hoc solutions only create confusion and inconsistency, so make sure this plan accounts for as many eventualities as you can reasonably predict.

Invest in the equipment you need
Some health and safety risks can’t be controlled with behavioural changes alone. If you need to invest in safety clothing and equipment such as signage, first aid kits and spill control products, then don’t be reluctant to do so – after all, the long-term benefits of a safe working environment will greatly outweigh these short-term costs.

Empower your staff to manage their own safety
An effective health and safety policy cannot be dictated from the top down; staff need to feel empowered to get involved in shifting behaviour in a way that’s safer for everyone. By delegating responsibility for implementing safety policies and offering regular training, the whole team will feel they are part of the change, resulting in a more measurable improvement in wellbeing.

Monitor your progress regularly
Improving health and safety isn’t a one-off fix. For any progress you make to stick, you’ll need to regularly monitor the performance of your new safety protocols, analyse the reasons for any accidents that do still occur, and ensure that your policies are updated regularly to align with changes in your working practices and staffing needs.

By making the effort to improve your health and safety performance and spending money in the right places, food and drink companies can make a noticeable difference to the wellbeing and happiness of their prized employees – a quality that will not go unappreciated in this competitive, fast-paced marketplace.

Kevin Rowe is Managing Director at SafetyBuyer. Safety Buyer is one of the UK’s leading providers of safety solutions to health & safety and facilities management professionals, specialising in PPE, safety signage, floor safety, first aid and COSHH and spill control products. Established in 2012, Safety Buyer is run by brothers Ian and Kevin who have over 40 combined years in the industry, making them experts on all things safety related.