KANSAS CITY, MO -- There are nearly 1 million men and women working in dairy processing plants across North America and keeping those people safe and healthy on the job is critical to a company’s success.
Dairy processors are committed to providing their employees with a safe working environment. Companies are constantly working to improve their employees’ safety on a day-to-day basis. Promoting a culture of safety fosters employee productivity and engagement, which is vital to profitability and long-term business success.
However, nothing has put the spotlight on employee safety like the COVID-19 pandemic. Since March 2020, companies have had to put their employee safety protocols to the test and quickly adapt to new guidelines set forth by government agencies, including the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
In January 2021, OSHA issued new guidance for employers in non-healthcare settings on how to implement a coronavirus protection program and better identify risks that could lead to the spread of the virus in the workplace. It outlines 16 steps for creating a safer, healthier workplace.
Dairy processors are taking active steps to ensure the continued health and safety of their workforce. HP Hood LLC, Lynnfield, Mass., announced in March 2021 it would be using the Appian Workforce Safety solution to support safely returning 3,387 employees to the workplace across 15 sites. Appian Workforce Safety provides an automated approach for safely returning to onsite work, including contact tracing, COVID-19 testing, vaccination insights, incident case management and aggregate health reporting.
“Throughout the pandemic, our first priority has been ensuring the health and safety of our employees,” said Jean McGurl, senior director of human resources at Hood. “Once we established how to do that, we realized we needed a software solution to help us implement and enforce those policies.”
More than three-quarters of senior-level North American food and beverage executives are actively preparing for a future global pandemic, according to a new study by AIB International. The survey of 325 senior-level North American executives was conducted by Research Strategy Group on behalf of AIB International.
According to the survey, 78% of food and beverage executives are actively preparing for a future global pandemic, with 30% expecting another one within the next four years and 50% expecting one within the next decade. The survey also found 61% of respondents said their company did not have an adequate plan in place to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic when it began.
“Even after the past year of disruption, almost half of respondents indicated they are still not adequately prepared with a plan for the future,” said Anne Coulter, managing director of Research Strategy Group. “Combined with the fact that 30% believe another global pandemic will occur in next four years — and a full 50% say within the next 10 years — that lack of preparedness is startling.”
Steve Robert, global vice president of product innovation at AIB International, said the research highlights the dramatic impacts felt by so many companies in the industry due to a lack of preparedness.
“Despite the understandable ‘crisis fatigue’ from grappling with COVID-19 over the past year, it’s clear that now is the time to prepare for the future and elevate critical planning to a best-in-class standard,” Mr. Robert said. “Should a future pandemic occur, improved preparedness will help offset some of the costs and disruption that so many operations have realized over the past year.”
In July 2020, AIB International introduced a Pandemic Prepared Certification for food and beverage manufacturers. The program is intended to provide assurances to employees, insurance providers, retailers and consumers that companies are committed to establishing and maintaining best practices during a global event similar to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The certification addresses five key areas: pandemic crisis management, health crisis mitigation and management, food safety continuity, supply chain disruption, and intermittent operations.
BEYOND THE PANDEMIC
Beyond COVID-19-specific employee safety protocols, US dairy actively and proactively develops innovative approaches to improve workplace safety. Statistics gathered by the Bureau of Labor Statistics report the dairy industry has consistently decreased its total recordable case (TRC) rates of occupational injuries or illness over the past 10 years. Dairy product manufacturing as a whole has nearly halved its TRC rate.
Each year, the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), Washington, DC, recognizes dairy companies for their achievements in worker safety with the IDFA Dairy Industry Safety Recognition Award. The award program includes categories for both processing facilities and trucking operations in the dairy industry, highlighting the outstanding workplace safety achievements of US dairy companies.
“These awards show that the dairy industry is driven not only to produce nutritious and delicious dairy products, but to do so as part of a company-wide safety culture,” said Taylor Boone, IDFA regulatory affairs coordinator.
Each company applies by detailing their occupational injury and illness performance rates as well as providing a narrative essay on safety efforts at the facility. Evaluations and awards are based on a review of injury statistics from OSHA and judged by a panel of industry experts. The 2021 winners were announced in August.“Lagging indicators such as lost time injury and illness rates and DART rates do not give the full picture of how good a company safety and health program is,” said Edwin G. Foulke Jr., of Fisher & Phillips LLP, who served as a judge for 2021 competition. “Moving towards utilizing leading indicators such as a strong culture of worker safety including continuous improvement, continuous education, engagement for employees and observations by managers and employees are more effective ways to improve a good safety and health program.”