Food sector adapting to health and safety rules

A study has examined how Romanian companies and workers in the food sector have adapted to EU directives on occupational health and safety. It found that the overwhelming majority of businesses in the sector abide by EU legislation but there were a number of deficiencies in workers’ training. The research revealed that 43% of companies appointed employees with special responsibilities in work safety, 40% outsourced the role, and 32.7% assigned the responsibility to managers.

About the study

A report, Health and Work Safety in Romanian Food Industry (1.7MB PDF, in Romanian) published by Romania’s National Federation of Food Industry Trade Unions (Sindalimenta), examines how companies and workers in the sector have adapted to EU directives on occupational health and safety.

The research is based on the results of a project co-financed by the European Social Fund (ESF) through the Operational Programme Human Resources Development 2007–2013 (1.8 MB PDF). The project was supported by the Romanian Employers Federation of Food Industries (Romalimenta), and their Spanish partners, the Agrobusiness Federation of the Workers General Union (FTA–UGT), the Spanish Federation of Food and Beverage Industries (FIAB), the Complex Training Institute (IFI), and occupational risk prevention organisation Prevalia CGP.

The project, developed between 2010 and 2013, provides a diagnostic analysis of health and safety at work issues in the Romanian food industry, specifically occupational risk prevention, identification, evaluation and control.

The study had a two-tier structure:

  • desk research – social and economic analysis of the food sector, a review of occupational accidents and disease statistics, and the identification and mapping of general and specific hazards;
  • field research – investigating prevention activities in food sector companies, making onsite visits to 31 companies, and conducting 427 questionnaire-based interviews with managers.

The company sample consisted of 47.6% businesses with up to 50 employees, 27.6% companies with between 51 and 150 employees, and 24.8% companies with 150 employees or more.

Main findings

Occupational hazard prevention

The analysis identified the main types of hazard in the sector based on the number of workers exposed to them. These included burns (18.7%), hits, cuts and stabs with various sharp objects and tools (18.2%), falls (16.6%) and electric shocks (11.3%).

The researchers looked at how hazard prevention activities were organised:

  • 43.2% of the companies in the sample had occupational health and safety representatives;
  • 40.7% outsourced occupational safety and health (OSH) services;
  • 39.6% dealt with OSH matters internally, with the assistance of workers trained and assigned to the job;
  • 32.7% managers were responsible for hazard prevention.

The research found that 61.5% of the companies chose one of those four options. Figures showed 38.5% preferred to put in place two or more risk prevention and protection structures, including outsourcing to specialised providers of such services.

Methods employed to prevent occupational hazards included:

  • general and regular training on the job (98% of companies );
  • maintaining employees’ medical records, skill profiles, psychological examination sheets, and exposure records (94.7%);
  • constant review of hazard prevention and protection plans (94.1%).

The companies that took part in the study showed less concern about labour quality and security standards.

Strengths and weaknesses

The study reveals that manual work is still widely used in the Romanian food industry, increasing the level of occupational hazard. Workers’ training programmes were not always interactive, or tailored to their specific duties and needs, and many companies did not keep statistical records of the number of days’ absence due to workplace-related health problems. The study also found that some companies did not always pay sufficient attention to their internal OSH committees.

In spite of the deficiencies, the study showed that the overwhelming majority (90%) of Romanian food industry corporate businesses do abide by the occupational health and safety legislation. It showed that they provide the necessary facilities for regular on-the-job general training in labour safety. In 95% of cases, companies notify the authorities and investigate labour accidents when they occur, and take measures to prevent situations that may generate occupational hazards.

Commentary

More than 90% of food industry businesses investigated during the study were able to produce documents confirming their compliance with occupational health and safety procedures. They also showed they had formed an OSH committee as required by EU law and regulations.

In many Romanian companies, however, OSH problems do not receive sufficient attention from the management and this explains the scarcity of data and information on labour safety matters. Similarly, the financial and physical resources allocated to OSH activities are, with rare exceptions, fairly low.

The findings demonstrate that the study is a useful example of good practice for the social partners in other economic sectors.

Constantin Ciutacu, Institute of National Economy, Romanian Academy

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