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Safe build­ing with­in the food in­dus­try

Written by: Dennis Beijaard
at at 20 December 2017
Safe building within the food industry

Renovations within the (food) industry are currently the order of the day. Capacity expansions and product modifications require adjustments to the housing. After the client has established the change, the contractors are selected. The basis for the selection can be their quotation. Sometimes it is also the experience that the client has had with a party before. These previous experiences can be summarized by the client in an evaluation based on, among other things, price, quality, speed and… safety. Especially with major renovations of longer periods and in which many people are involved, a H&G plan is required (a so-called hours/days criterion).

A H&S plan is a Safety and Health plan, as laid down in the Working Conditions Decree (art. 2.28). See the section on the right in the box about a H&G plan. The law states that the H&S plan must be drawn up by the client. What should be addressed in a H&S plan?    
A good H&G plan is based on 2 parts: “Design” and “Build”.  Ad 1. The H&G plan “Design” makes statements about occupational health and safety conditions that the building design entails. A good example of this is how the windows of the new building will have to be washed in the future. Self-cleaning glass can be a solution for high-rise buildings because, in addition to the fact that a special installation on the building is then unnecessary, it removes risks for window cleaners. Ad 2. V&G “Construction” focuses on the realization of the devised design and makes statements about maintaining the safety and health of the employees involved during the construction phase. So much for the theory.

The practice

What about the practice then?  Many clients do not write an H&S plan themselves, but submit it to the potential contractor as part of the quote request. The proposal is assessed by the client and provided with any comments, after which the contractor may or may not adjust parts of it. As a result of this development, H&S coordination is transferred to the contractor, often with the client's guideline: no incidents during the construction phase. In principle, after the planning and design phase, the construction process can begin and the shovel goes into the ground. Of course, a work permit is required that enforces that everything is done safely. For those readers unfamiliar with this term, a work permit is required for all work, which involves risks, but which can be performed safely under controlled conditions and under certain conditions, so that an undisturbed primary process, the care of persons, installations and the environment are safeguarded. Usually a work permit is  a form – digital or not – for which you have to sign. Many contractors are now VCA certified. With such a certificate, we assume that we are going to work with a professional party. VCA stands for Safety, Health and Environment (VGM) Checklist Contractors and is intended to allow all those involved to work safely during construction and to reduce the number of accidents. Have we arranged it so well when it comes to health and safety? The combination of a H&G plan, VCA and the issued work permit should ensure that everything goes safely, right? And, if that is not enough, a safety expert will visit every now and then to check whether everything is going well during construction. Doesn't that help too? Of course, serious offenders are immediately banned from the construction sites if it is discovered that he or she is not working safely.

It doesn't work that way.

Unfortunately, we encounter less positive situations in our daily practice. Below is an overview.

  • Safety and Health Plans come in many shapes and sizes. Sometimes a H&G plan covers ten pages, sometimes it has grown to two hundred pages. We suspect that whether or not you read V&G plans completely is inversely proportional to the number of pages it takes.
  • Often, when writing new V&G plans, we go back to the old and  familiar plans. Some H&G plans originate in the 1990s and have hardly been updated since. For example, we sometimes come across the following guideline in a H&S plan: “If the quartz dust dusts too much, a P3 dust cap should be used”. Besides the fact that this is prohibited by law, in 2017 there are really better solutions for this.
  • The role of the H&S coordinator is more than once that of an implementer. Because of his coordinating task and his two hats, he (consciously or unconsciously) does not always (or always not) look with the (required) eye for safety. The reason often plays a role: "Safety is fine", but it must remain practical and feasible'.
  • Construction partners sometimes have surprisingly little understanding of food safety. We sometimes see that work is done unsafely on, for example, a roof or the sewer. There is also a rapid risk of salmonella contamination in the building. Once in the building, it is very difficult to get the salmonella bacteria out again.
  • In construction, a lot of indifference is found on the part of managers and foremen. Some believe that their employees should especially look after themselves. Two examples: it is simply found to step over a 20 cm wide and 20 cm deep recess in the floor, or to transfer from a cherry picker to a building at height.
  • A conspicuous cause of accidents in the construction industry are self-employed people who are self-employed. Construction companies often deploy a freelancer for specific matters, for which they are insufficiently equipped. Self-employed persons are an extra risk, because of their often moderate safety training. There is no prior check on their safety knowledge and insufficient monitoring of their work during implementation. With all the consequences that entails.

In conclusion, we can say that in many cases the VCA guideline is a dead letter. Many contractors see VCA as 'a tile on the wall of the waiting room'. Unfortunately, it often happens that VCA is not much more than a commercially oriented story without a further practical interpretation, let alone steering.

How should it be done?

When (food) companies take safety seriously during their construction and demand the same from their contractors, the approach must be different:

  1. Less needs to be arranged on paper and more guidance in practice for all those involved: from managers to employees and freelancers on the construction site;
  2. The people who carry out the work must be trained in safety aspects. Of course, this concerns work safety, and within the food industry also food safety. A few days of guidance to increase work safety and food safety are well spent and justifiable;
  3. A client hires no one other than a safety expert for supervision. He regularly walks around the construction site to stimulate people, motivate them to work safely and give compliments when it is done well. He takes the foreman on the tour to help him look differently at work and the risks that this entails.

We are convinced that the number of accidents can be greatly reduced with the above advice. Only then will we achieve that “safety starts with the people themselves”.

Author Hessel Holwerda (Holwerda Safety Solutions). Hessel is an independent Health & Safety specialist and safety expert. He works for clients in the (food) industry.