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Why Safety Should be Proactive Instead of Reactive

James Boretti, CSP, President / CEO of Boretti, Inc.

In today’s COVID-19 environment, people may think this isn’t a great statement to make: having safety makes sense. In the safety profession, the following question has always been a challenge: “Why safety?”

There are many reasons why organizations embrace safety, such as complying with OSHA regulations, minimizing the impact of insurance rates, reducing injuries, or minimizing risk exposures. And on the surface, it appears that most companies pay attention to safety to avoid something: recurrence of a recent serious injury; OSHA penalties; high insurance rates. While all of these are good reasons, these actions are reactions: in each case safety isn’t planned, it’s a reaction to something that happens.

In the past, the assumed answer is “because it’s required;” however, today we see safety is all about creating confidence: confidence that our food supply is safe, confidence that our workplaces are safe to work in, and confidence that it’s safe for customers to return. And that confidence comes with success. A safe environment allows customers to feel confident to visit and buy from you, talent to seek employment at your organization and remain, and stability for the organization. Over 30 years of experience has shown that to build this confidence, businesses must follow five steps to embrace safety.

5 Basic Steps to Embrace Safety

  1. Assess

Ask yourself “What is of risk to the organization, and how can I possibly control it?” You’d be amazed at all the wasted effort you’ll find if you spend a little time asking these questions. Knowing these risks helps you know how to address them.

OSHA lists absenteeism, change in commerce patterns, and interrupted supply chain are potential risks to businesses from the COVID-19 pandemic. And, if we are to assess for risk, OSHA’s assessment for risk fall into three major categories:

  • Job duties involving close (within 6 feet), frequent contact with the public, customers or workers, especially contact with infected people or other sources of the virus.
  • Social conditions in the population area have ongoing transmission.
  • Traveling to areas that are highly affected by COVID-19.

Considerations would be given to proximity (closeness to others); frequently touched surfaces that may be found in a common area such as a lobby, customer waiting room, breakrooms, restrooms, and time clocks; and layouts such as open spaced work areas and airflow.

  1. Process –

Once you know risks you need to address, you can know how you’re going to control them, and you’ll want to put them into a written process. OSHA has outlined a process to reduce exposure risk for employees by addressing both workplace-specific and non-occupational risk factors to determine the best prevention measures for your operation. As always, ensure you are following federal, state, local, tribal and/or territorial recommendations

Applying this to the COVID-19 situation, capturing the efforts you make into a plan ensures your efforts are on track and documented, and that they are working well. The key is to ensure everyone knows who is going to do what by when. Elements of a process would include the following:

ElementsExpectations, Better Practices, Application
Responsibilities / RolesLists who is responsible for what by when
AccessWho can access the facility / job-site /  when (i.e., employees, contractors, visitors), working from home, screenings, PPE and distancing expectations, etc.
CleaningHow is this done, frequency, what surfaces (hard vs. porous), post-COVID suspected or confirmed, etc.
PrecautionsSocial distancing, PPE, washing / sanitizing, staggered shifts and breaks, etc.
TravelIf necessary / approved, precautions to take, etc.
Carpooling / Vanpooling / RidesharingIf necessary, cleaning and disinfecting after each ride, self-screening, barriers / PPE, ventilation
ResourcesItems the company will provide to employees, customers (within its ability)
CommunicationFor confidence on cleaning, following suspected / confirmed COVID cases, etc.
  1. Educate –

Educating and including your people in the process, including the risks being controlled and why, will help them engage and contribute to the success, making it more valuable.

Applying this to the COVID-19 situation, education would cover the following elements at a minimum: 

  • What COVID is and How it Transmits: this provides the “why” we are doing what we’re doing.
  • What to do:
    • Cover coughs and sneezes
    • Wash hands
    • Wear face coverings
    • Frequent cleaning
    • Stay home if sick / exposure
    • What’s changed in the workplace
    • Your program / what’s expected
  1. Implement –

Implement the process and watch it take off. For the current COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and OSHA suggest implementing frequent handwashing and shifting policies or practices to include more flexible worksites and work hours. Workplace changes such as workstation distancing or use of barriers, and one single point for entry and a separate single point for exit are also some ideas to consider COVID prevention.

  1. Investigate –

Not everything will be perfect the first time: if something goes wrong, investigate to find out why, then make a change to improve the process.

OSHA uses the following investigation technique for a COVID situation to determine if it is possibly work related or not.

  • COVID-19 case is likely work-related if:
    • Several cases develop among workers who work closely together
    • Contracted shortly after lengthy, close exposure to customer or coworker who has a confirmed case of COVID-19
    • Job duties include frequent, close exposure to the general public in a locality with ongoing community transmission
  • COVID-19 case is likely NOT work-related if:
    • The person is the only worker to contract COVID-19 in vicinity and job duties do not include having frequent contact with the general public, regardless of the rate of community spread.
    • Outside the workplace, the worker closely and frequently associates with someone who (1) has COVID-19; (2) is not a coworker, and (3) exposes the employee during period in which the individual is likely infectious

The answers to the investigation would trigger immediate actions to do with regard to communication, quarantining and cleaning, and how the process can be improved, if needed.

For additional resources regarding COVID, visit the following links:

OSHA Risk & Hazard Recognition: https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/covid-19/hazardrecognition.html#low_risk

OSHA Return to Work Document: https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA4045.pdf

Centers for Disease Control (CDC): https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html

American Society of Safety Professionals: https://www.assp.org/resources/covid-19/latest-resources

These five simple steps will create the confidence needed for success. Contact a safety professional to provide you guidance and support.

About the Author: James Boretti is the President and founder of Boretti, Inc. James has over thirty years of environmental, health and safety management and consultation experience. He is a Certified Safety Professional, a prestigious designation he has held for over 25 years. You can contact him at (559) 372-7545 or james@borettiinc.com.

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Digital Traceability: Reducing Risks and Finding Efficiencies

Written by Alex Lewis, Parity Factory Corp.

The ongoing crisis has shed light on the need for innovation in the food space, even in the most fundamental processes.

If someone were to ask you which industries were most important to our daily lives, what would you say? Along with things like communications, construction, and clothing, one of the first things that likely comes to mind is also one of the most basic: food. The agricultural and food processing industries provide for our most key needs and enables our continued growth. It is unlikely anyone would argue against the importance of the food and beverage industry to our society, however 2020 has brought us a loud and clear reminder of just how crucial it is, in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In just a few short months, food and beverage manufacturers saw demand increases that haven’t been seen in a lifetime. At the time of writing, sectors of the food industry have experienced spikes in volume ranging from 32% in milk, 30-47% across the snack sector, and a staggering 77% increase in demand for meat, and this trend holds true for nearly every vertical within the industry.

The stay-at-home orders announced by most governments have sent consumers rushing to the store, clearing shelves and placing new strain on food and beverage processors. As they struggle to keep up with their order volume, many manufacturers are looking for new ways to improve their efficiency and reduce their liabilities. As it turns out, one of the most effective methods may also be the simplest: digitizing their lot tracing.

What is digital lot tracing?

All food and beverage manufacturers track their lots. In fact, it is one of the basic requirements for running a food processing business, with the specific standards and protocols defined at the federal level by organizations such as the FDA. By requiring tracking of all material that is involved in making a product, down to the packaging used, it ensures that recalls can be performed swiftly and protects the health of the public. Manufacturers manage their tracing using a variety of methods, from pen and paper, to Microsoft Excel, to fully integrated traceability software, with many using a combination of methods. Digital lot tracing simply means that a company is capturing and managing their tracing data on a digital platform, often integrating scanning and barcoding into the process. This approach has a drastically lower error rate than more traditional methods and tends to be significantly more efficient.

Despite tracing being a common daily task that all processors contend with, there has been surprisingly little momentum towards automated lot tracing in food. By some metrics, only 1 in 5 operations have fully automated their lot data capture, with a bit more having partially implemented the process. The food industry has always been slow to adopt new processes, but as demand and competition skyrockets, many are finally feeling the need for an upgrade.

The risks of a recall

Executing recalls, specifically executing them quickly and efficiently, is one of the biggest challenges that food and beverage manufacturers face. Under current FDA guidelines, food and beverage processors need to be able to perform a recall within four hours. Many of the major retailers demand even more of their suppliers; if you want your product on the shelves in a Walmart or Costco, you must be able to perform the same process in as little as two hours. The unfortunate reality is that for processors tracing on paper, particularly those producing at scale, these targets are difficult to hit. Also, the human element involved in manual tracing can allow errors to find their way into data, and this has become especially true for those who are dramatically increasing their throughput to keep up with new demand caused by COVID-19. Without true, reliable data, a recall can quickly go from difficult to impossible.

The consequences of a botched recall can be dire: the average recall costs a manufacturer $10 million, not including possible fines from regulators, or losing the aforementioned Walmart or Costco contract. One of the biggest losses is one that may not be immediately obvious: consumer confidence. Over half of consumers will quit purchasing a product once it has been recalled, and studies have shown that a company’s stock price will typically drop as much as 22% following a major recall. Once that confidence is gone, it can take months or even years to get it back, if it can be regained at all.

All these problems can be mitigated, if not completely prevented, through digital lot tracing. With a capable solution in place, recall times can be measured in minutes, not hours, as a few quick searches replaces shuffling through endless forms to find the lot in question (if it was recorded correctly at all). This guarantees compliance with even the most demanding of rules and regulations and eliminates all fear when inspectors and auditors show up for routine recall tests. In addition, the ability to execute a speedy yet thorough recall when problems arise minimizes the risk to both consumers, and the manufacturer’s reputation. The bottom line: most food manufacturers are going to face a recall at some point. It is crucial to have the systems in place to react appropriately when that time comes.

How does it increase efficiency?

Due to the huge importance of lot tracing, manufacturers using manual systems often have some of their most competent and experienced employees devoted to the task. Even if these staff would be better suited to other areas, it’s just not worth taking the risk of assigning less experienced employees to the job. Digital lot tracing solves this by drastically simplifying the tracing process. Scanning a barcode and letting software do the rest is far quicker, easier, and less error-prone than meticulously creating and tracking hundreds of lot codes by hand. Meaning that you end up spending less time on tracing, and therefore less money, while winding up with data that is significantly more reliable. This both frees up an operation’s most capable employees to pursue new opportunities and allows anyone in the operation to take part in the tracing process. New employees can be trained and onboarded quickly, which is particularly useful for processors hiring huge amounts of new labor in the wake of COVID-19. 

All of this allows for greatly increased flexibility when it comes to staffing, and as COVID-19 turns the industry on its head the value of that flexibility has become crystal clear. While many of us have had the luxury to transition into working from home, that’s just not an option for many working in the food space. When employees are unable to attend work, for example if they are sick, someone else must step in. This can be a major threat to efficiency when the few people in your operation qualified to handle lot tracking are missing. In dealing with turnover and staff redistribution, there’s tangible benefit to having a system that allows employees to be effective, regardless of their experience level. 

For those looking to digitize their lot tracing, there is no shortage of solutions to accomplish that task. However, a sufficiently robust solution should go beyond just traceability. If you are tracking each lot as it moves through your facility, it creates great possibility to capture additional data such as yields, storage locations, and quality information. In this way, digital lot tracing can be viewed as a foundation on which to build even more extensive efficiency improvements. These additional features are some of the most important considerations for any manufacturer to make when choosing between available systems.

Preparing for an uncertain future

COVID-19 has proven that swift, unpredictable changes can happen in any industry, even one as foundational as food and beverage. With new issues such as shifting demographics, climate change, and the variable nature of trade on the horizon, it is likely that changes will become more frequent and even the smallest efficiencies will be essential to thrive.

Customer consciousness is also changing rapidly, and businesses that want to stay competitive have no choice but to change with it. As consumers and regulators demand ever more transparency and accountability from the food industry, reliable tracing data is becoming ever more crucial.

Manufacturers will undoubtedly rise to these new challenges in the future, just as they are rising to the challenges of today. And along the way, many will find a comprehensive digital lot tracing system to be one of their most valuable tools. 

Sources/Further Reading:

Acorn Surfaces & Treatments
for Concrete Restoration Products and Services

Breaux, Randy. “COVID-19 Shows the Need for Automation.” Foodprocessing.com, Food Processing Magazine, 2020, http://www.foodprocessing.com/articles/2020/power-lunch-covid-19-shows-the-need-for-automation/. 

Deloitte. Recall Execution Effectiveness: Collaborative Approaches to Improving Consumer Safety and Confidence. 2010.

Demetrekakes, Pam. “How the Coronavirus Is Affecting Food Processing.” Foodprocessing.com, Food Processing Magazine, 2020, http://www.foodprocessing.com/articles/2020/how-the-coronavirus-is-affecting-food-processing/.

Lelieveld, H. L. M. Hygiene in Food Processing. Woodhead, 2017.

Stier, Richard F. “How Food Processors Can Create a Plan for Traceability and Recalls.” Food Engineering RSS, Food Engineering, 11 May 2020, www.foodengineeringmag.com/articles/98026-how-food-processors-can-create-a-plan-for-traceability-and-recalls.

Torero, Maximo. “How to Stop a Looming Food Crisis.” Foreign Policy, 14 Apr. 2020, foreignpolicy.com/2020/04/14/how-to-stop-food-crisis-coronavirus-economy-trade/.