Electrical safety in the food industry - How to ensure this is not a “shocking experience

By Linda Jackson on 13 July 2020

When we think of electricity in the workplace, most of us would say this is the job of the electrician. Have you ever found a plug with water in it after cleaning? Have you ever cleaned equipment and slopped water over it? Have you, or someone working for you, ever had a shock from equipment such as scales or conveyors? Did you report the shock, or did you just brush it off as a ‘bit of static’?

So, what are the basic things we should consider and include in our work instructions and audits to keep our employees safe?

Don’t push start unless it is safe

To make sure equipment is safe, machine operators or supervisors must carry out checks at the startof the shift. This includes checks on electrical parts of the equipment such as plugs, cables and control cabinets. There should be a checklist for this or even better, these checks can be incorporated on existing pre-start check sheets. Any defects should be reported and repaired as a priority. It’s the supervisor’s and manager’s responsibility to ensure that any defects are corrected.

Creating a switched-on safety culture

Most people come to work to do a good job and expect to return home safe and healthy. You’re responsible for the safety of those under your care and for creating a culture where staff keep themselves and their colleagues safe. Often electrical equipment is taken for granted and can be misused. It’s your responsibility to ensure that workers are aware of the risks and don’t misuse equipment such as plugs and sockets. Make sure you teach staff what the incorrect practices are: frayed cords, broken plugs, overloading sockets, and abuse of extension cords. Do not assume.Cleaning can spark issuesTo prevent the danger of electric shock during cleaning, electrical equipment must be switched off and isolated, unless the risk assessment states otherwise. Water in electrical equipment can be extremely hazardous, so before cleaning equipment, electrical cabinets and plugs must be protected. Remember: you wouldn’t allow your television set to be hosed down at home, so don’t permit the hosing down of electrical equipment at work. Make sure your cleaning instructions are very clear in this regard. Train people ON THE JOB for this so they can see and understand. Make sure you extend this to cleaning contractors too.

Not cleaning can make it go boom

The food industry does have several conditions that never mix well with electricity. Wet, sometimes dusty environments, a fast pace and continuous operation all increase the level of risk. These environmental conditions also mean that design standards governing water ingress and earthing andbonding must be correctly specified. Production and Engineering should work together to specify equipment carefully rather than ‘get what they are given’ by contractors and suppliers. It should be remembered water in electrical equipment is not only bad for electrical safety but is a significant cause of equipment breakdown. The costs of reactive maintenance and loss of production make this a very important issue resolve – before it starts. Excessive dust can result in dust explosion hazards and equipment should be specified for these environments (but always treat the root cause of the problem here)

Look out for the hobby sparky

Moveable equipment (including scales) is often prone to pulled earth cables, where the earth lead can become detached from the terminal. It’s particularly likely to happen on equipment that can be moved around. Report any damage to plugs and leads, and always carefully plug and unplug equipment such as scales. Also, make sure that you inspect equipment before use.

Don’t allow people to bring their own electrical equipment, such as radios and kettles, on site. This isbecause all such equipment must be properly maintained. If such equipment is allowed on site, it should be inspected and tested. Watch out for phone chargers! Also, operators shouldn’t fix electrical equipment unless they’re competent and authorised to do so – call a qualified person to ‘get it going’.

Make sure there are no temporary fixes – fraying cords mended with insulation tape; exposed wires left open if cords are lengthened.