Friday, August 31, 2012

THE PLACE OF HSE IN FOOD INSPECTION

BY W. D. AMAKIRI
Being a paper presented at the Thematic Training of Environmental health Officers on Health, Safety and Environment, in Benin-City, May, 2012

1. INTRODUCTION AND DEFINITION
HSE is an acronym which means Health, Safety and Environment. Conceptually, it refers, to a process tool that is used in managing the health, safety and environmental concerns of an organization. Health, safety and environmental concerns of an organization refer to how the work force of an organization can remain healthy, safe and work in an environment devoid of issues that will be harmful or prejudicial to health and well being; that is, work in an environment devoid of hazards.

What this means is that it is a management system, normally, deployed to scientifically handle the negative HSE issues and concerns of various work processes. Because it is used in the scientific management of those issues which would negatively impact the work force in the work processes at work and the environment, the EHO as a key expert in the environmental work team must be well grounded in its conception and application. The EHO stands to benefit from its application to the science of food hygiene inspection, so as to be able to identify and eliminate food safety hazards. It is, therefore, the aim of this paper to highlight the application of this concept in food inspection.

2. DEPLOYMENT OF HSE IN FOOD INSPECTION
The basic aspect of the HSE management process or system, is the identification of hazards and putting in place systems that work effectively to eliminate such hazards or reducing them to As Low As Reasonably Practicable (ALARP) where they cannot be eliminated. The sole aim is to make the work environment and work place safe to a standard that makes it harmless.

Similarly, the role of the EHO in food inspection is to identify and eliminate food safety hazards or hazards inherent in food so as to activate measures that can be put in place to render unwholesome food wholesome and safe for consumption.

3. HSE TOOLS AND THEIR APPLICATION IN FOOD INSPECTION
The basic HSE tools of hazard identification are unsafe acts and unsafe conditions audits, inspection of work processes, inspection of personnel during work, inspection of work methods and auditing and inspection of work tools and equipment.
Audit involves a purposeful inspection walk through of the work environment, taking a critical look at the work place touching all the significant areas mentioned above with the sole aim of identifying inherent hazards and recommending strategies for their elimination or reduction. It includes critically inspecting the various aspects and processes in the work area and environment with a view to uncovering inherent hazards. Such identified hazards are recorded and reported to the process owner(s) for correction and or re-engineering for the purpose of rectification and or remediation.

Unsafe act audits, unlike other HSSE audit tools which aim at identifying work processes, tools and equipment, rather aim at identifying the behavioural shortfalls of the worker that can result in creating a hazard or hazardous situation that may lead to an accident.

3.1. APPLICATION
Similarly, the EHO can apply these tools to inspect food, food handlers, food handling and preparation processes and food preparation premises to identify food safety hazards and recommend strategies for reducing or eliminating them to ALARP. In case of work processes and methods that cannot be corrected, a well documented change process, agreed by the parties, should be put in place to change the process and or method to a safe one.

3.2. AREAS TO APPLY THESE TOOLS (AREAS OF COVERAGE)
Areas of concern where these tools can be applied are:
i. The food transportation process;
ii. The food stores (cold and dry) and other storage facilities;
iii. The kitchen which includes cooking equipment and utensils, floors, service drains personnel i.e. all categories of food handlers and designated waste management tools and equipment.

4. HSE AND FOOD HANDLING PERSONNEL
The HSSE tool can also be used to assess some health parameters of food handling personnel in areas such their personal health, personal hygiene and the use of personal protection equipment (PPE) in food handling.

4.1. HEALTH OF FOOD HANDLERS: By health of food handlers we mean the state of fitness of the food handler. State of fitness refers to the physical, mental and social wellbeing of the food handler.
The current practice in determining the fitness of food handlers does not lie only in medical examination but rather on the implementation of a fitness to work (FTW) regime. This process involves the filling out of a questionnaire by the food handler stating his/her health status. This questionnaire is kept as the baseline data on the health of the food handler. It is used in assessing the health of the food handler in times of illness. A food handler is made to update the questionnaire each time he/she stays away from work due to ill health. The updating must include the type of ill health that kept the food handler away from work. This process thus gives facility owner and visiting EHO to make a good assessment of the health status personnel and gets some fall back data base during the investigation of a food poisoning incident.

4.2. PERSONAL HYGIENE: Personal hygiene of food handlers refers to the state of cleanness of the food handler and this is a function of the general maintenance of the body. The hair, the finger and toe nails, the armpits and pubic regions and all other enclosed parts and the entire body and clothes must be scrupulously cleaned and maintained at all times. It also involves proper bathing and wash ups and care of the private and enclosed parts of the earlier mentioned. Hairs must be on low cut or covered with appropriate head gear.

4.3. PERSONAL PROTECTION EQUIPMENT (PPE) Food handlers must always wear PPE when on duty. Apart from helping to protect the food handler during an accident, it also keeps him or her comfortable and gives a sense of pride thereby increasing productivity.


References
1. Clay’s handbook of Environmental Health, W. H. Basset and F.G. Davies; 1981 H. K. Lewis & Co Ltd, London.
2. FOOD Poisoning and Food Hygiene 2nd ed., Betty C. Hobbs; 1970 Spattishwoode, Ballantyne & Co Ltd, London and Golchester.
3. Coroner’s Practical Food Hygiene, Coroner Publications Ltd, London.