Case Studies

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The case studies which follow are a representative sample of the types of business which operate in the wholesale and retail seafood sector. In most cases, the risks identified during the initial hazard inspections were easily managed with a minimum of time, effort and resources on the part of the owner or manager. It is envisaged that after reading through these case studies, other businesses in the post harvest sector will be able to see how easy it is to make substantial safety improvements with minimal effort. Some of the more valuable lessons that can be drawn from these inspections include the need for:

  • A central risk register to list all hazards in the workplace and what is being done to minimise them. This list can be used for new staff induction to warn about site-specific dangers.
  • Safe Work Procedures (SWPs) to be written for all hazardous tasks so that the manager can be confident that a consistent approach to dealing with specific hazards is being undertaken by all staff.
  • A pro-active inspection regime instituted so that all locations and equipment are regularly checked for defects, and that this is recorded and timetabled for rectification.
  • Frequent communication between the owner/manager and staff regarding safety issues.

Description: A wholesale and export seafood business where large consignments are purchased, processed and shipped off to other destinations. The business employs several full time office staff and a casual processing workforce for filleting, packing and deliveries.

Fall Hazards – Ladders
In the cold storage area it was noted that a ladder was being used to access high shelves however it had not been secured to the shelves, nor was there any indication as to the highest rung a worker can go up to. The tall ladder also rested on a cold wet slippery floor increasing the risk of an accident. This situation posed a serious hazard should a worker carrying a load go too high and the ladder slip. The risk was minimised by securing the ladder to the shelving and placing a warning sign on a cable across the rung recommended by the manufacture to be the highest safe access point.

First Aid
It was noted that several staff were unaware as to the location of the first aid supplies. After searching, the first aid supplies were found to be stored on the top shelf in a downstairs office. This would have made it difficult to reach for a short staff member, even if they had known where it was in an emergency. The first aid cabinet was subsequently mounted on a wall in an easily accessible position with a large safety sign indicating its position.

Fire Hazards
When the fire extinguishers were checked it was noted that they had not been inspected for several years. This could have meant that in an emergency they may not have worked. A quick call to the supplier organised an inspection of all extinguishers.

Electrical Hazards
As is common in many businesses double adapters and extension cables were in common use. This creates a significant risk in wet areas as moisture can enter into the cable/adapter interfaces and cause short circuiting. The cables were also exposed to corroded metal in one location which required immediate attention. The final solution required the installation of additional power points so as to completely remove the need for adapters. Power points were also installed on cables that extend down from the ceiling. In the interim however the power cables were securely taped on to the wall to minimize the risk until an electrician could undertake the required work.

Shelving Hazards
Several large stand-alone shelves used for the storing of export product were not fastened to the walls, leaving the possibility that the whole unit may topple if incorrectly stacked. This potential hazard was quickly rectified by securing the shelf brackets directly to the wall.

Trip Hazards
The area around the processing section was found to be overly cluttered with fish boxes, which reduced free movement and meant it was more likely that workers carrying loads might trip. All unnecessary clutter was removed and discussions held with staff regarding how they might better manage the level of product being stacked in this area in order to improve access and safety.

Description: A suburban retail fresh seafood shop specialising in wet fish, with a small core family workforce and a small number of casual employees for busy times.

Emergency Exit
It was noted that there was only one exit from the front of the shop and this was filled with supplies and boxes which may hinder rapid evacuation in the case of an emergency. These were relocated elsewhere improving access out of the shop in the event of an emergency.

Electrical Hazards
As is common in the industry the business used a cement mixer for tenderizing octopus. This solved a manual handling problem of doing it by hand for several hours, however the mixer had exposed gears in which someone’s hand could easily be caught. Until they upgrade to a newer model, the owner decided to keep the mixer under lock and key, and use it only before and after hours, and only when at least one other person is present in the shop in case of an emergency.

It was also noted that 240V electrical cables from a portable radio had been passed through a metal locker door which may result in the metal surrounds becoming electrified if the cord became damaged. This cable was removed and thrown away, and the manager installed batteries in the radio to provide an immediate fix.

Slip Hazards
Fish waste and debris from filleting and skinning fish was found to be collecting on the floor in the preparation area of the shop during busy periods. Due to the oily/slippery flesh of fish this presents a very dangerous slip hazard. This was in part rectified by staff taking more care when preparing fish and by purchasing easily identifiable tubs which are designated just for fish waste. The owner also decided to order non-slip mats for the area as well as providing rubber non- slip boots for all staff.

The back dock area of the shop where trucks unload deliveries is very narrow as well as being very high. It was also noted that there were no hand railing or hazard lines around the edge of the dock. A problem occurs when the shop floor is washed out as the water flows through to the back door and then onto the dock. As there is no gutter to divert the wash water the back dock remains wet with an oily fish that creates a serious slip hazard.

Three measures were devised to address the situation. This included: the installation of a guard rail, a gutter to divert water flow and painted hazard lines around the edge of the dock. These measures were then raised with the shopping centre management as a matter requiring urgent attention. In the interim, the wash water had to be washed off the dock and all fish remains removed by hand following each wash down.

Cut Hazards
A filleting bench was found to have a tap installed (for defrosting product) on the side which was protected from moving traffic by means of a metal guard. The guard had a sharp edge and may have caused serious injured to a staff member in the event of a slip or trip. The hazard was temporarily controlled by covering the sharp edge on the metal guard with a thick bright yellow and black tape which also served to help make the hazard more identifiable to staff. A qualified plumber was then employed to move the tap to a more suitable location so as to totally remove the need for the guard.

Back Injury Hazards
The sink in the preparation room was noted as being particularly deep. Continuous reaching into the bottom of this sink for product may cause muscular strain and possibly long-term effects such as back injury. This sink was used for holding product from fish boxes prior to preparation such as scaling, and gutting. A simple solution used here was to decrease the depth of sink by placing a plastic box at the bottom and not emptying a whole box at a time however ultimately the sink is to be replaced with a larger shallower sink.

Description: A family-run retail seafood business focusing on both fresh and cooked take-way seafood with a small staff of casuals workers.

Batter Drill Mixers
A simple and quick safety improvement was easily achieved with batter mixing process. Batter was made in large quantities for coating seafood and to prevent manual handling problems, a tradesmen drill was used with a whisk attachment. Because of the potential for electrical safety issues and the possibility of finger entanglement this process presented a potential safety hazard. Electrical safety issues were dealt with by purchasing a new cordless drill which was battery operated and so didn’t require a cable with 240V. The entanglement issue was solved by using a large plastic bucket to mix the batter and by placing the drill bit through a hole in the lid thus restricting access during operation.

Fire Hazards
It was discovered upon close inspection that the fire extinguishers were corroded and had not been checked in some time. Due to the wet salty conditions in the shop this situation is not uncommon however this type of structural damage may cause pressurization problems at a later stage causing the extinguisher not to work. This situation was corrected by replacing the extinguisher and arranging for regular maintenance inspections with the supplier.

Deep Fryer Hazards – oil spills
Deep fryers were in daily use in this establishment. Due to a recent incident involving the disposal of hot oil, it was decided to write up a procedure to train staff in the safe use of the machine. Strategies used to manage the risk from oil spills involved using ice to clean up any spilled oil from the floor (the ice freezes the oil making it easier to clean up), and to prohibit the hand carrying of oil in buckets. A small trolley was purchased for moving oil to reduce to risk of spills in the future.

Electrical Hazards
A quick inspection of the mains circuit board revealed that no RCDs (power safety switches) had been installed. Such electrical safety switches are essential to providing a safe working environment in every business and reducing the risk of electrocution. The globe in the cool room was also found to be hanging out of the socket, and so exposing the wires to moisture and the metal walls. An electrician was immediately called to install the appropriate safety switches and fix the light socket.

Storage Hazards
Within the cool room, seafood boxes were found to be stacked to an excessive height (six to seven high) which posed a risk of toppling when extra boxes were added or when other products were accessed. It was decided that the best approach here was to restrict the height level to which the boxes are stacked and install signage to remind staff. The owner was also endeavoring to move from bulk purchases to buying just what was needed at the time (JIT) in order to reduce storage requirements.

and Trip Hazards
A drain cover had been removed to avoid fish waste blocking a drain and flooding the floor. However this creates a serious risk as a worker may accidentally put their foot into the hole which could result in extensive injury to their foot and leg. Drain covers with larger drainage holes were installed in conjunction with increased efforts to reduce fish waste accumulating on the floors.

Storage of Chemicals
Like all seafood businesses a number of different chemical cleaners are used on a daily basis. Upon inspection of the chemical storage area it was noted that the labels had peeled off a number of the containers. This makes identifying the chemicals and the hazards they might pose difficult for staff. All chemical containers (including ones used for decanting) were subsequently inspected and correctly labeled. The proper procedures involved in chemical storage, decanting and labeling were introduced and a chemical register containing relevant Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) was established.

Potato Peelers
The business regularly uses a mechanical potato peeler which was stored in the backyard of the shop. Potatoes are placed in through a hole in the top, and then ground around the inside of a rotating drum producing a peeled potato. The device is electrically driven and operated. It was noted that there was no guarding on the machine which meant someone’s hand could easily pass into the rotating drum. The yard itself was also not adequately secured and the machine power supply came via an extension cable which ran across the ground.

This machine represented several challenges to the owner, but after some discussion, it was agreed that the power socket should be locked so that the machine could not be operated without the key and to install a guard with cut-off switches so as to stop the drum operating if opened during operation.

Description: A large family-run enterprises located in a market with dozens of staff serving hundreds of customers every day.

Drainage Hazards
As is common practice in the industry frozen product was defrosted by placing it into a large plastic container with fresh running water from a tap pouring over it. It was noted however that in this situation the water runs out of the container and over the floor to a drain on the other side of the room which increased the likelihood of staff slipping. This was easily fixed by simply relocating the defrosting to another tap which was closer to the drain in question.

Knife Hazards
In the filleting room, it was noted that knives were left lying on the benches when not in use which poses a significant hazard should a knife fall or be knocked off a bench. This hazard was easily rectified by installing wall mounted magnetic strip so that knives cannot accidentally fall on workers’ feet.

First Aid
The first aid cabinet was found to be low on critical supplies such as bandages. Supplies were quickly replaced, and a staff member designated to be in charge of keeping the first aid supplies stocked, as well as recording any injuries.

Band Saws – Safety sensors
A band saw was used to cut up large fish and lobsters. This piece of equipment is designed to cut flesh and bone very quickly, and so careful attention is needed to operate it, as well as its many safety features. A quick inspection revealed that it lacked sensors to power down the blade when opening the top and bottom doors. This was rectified immediately by calling a repair mechanic. Because this bandsaw was in a very busy cutting room, it was decided to demarcate the area around the saw with a yellow line, and prohibit entry to the area when the machinery is in use.

Electrical Hazards
It was noticed that no cable had been electrically tested or tagged even though the shop is a “hostile working environment” (as are all retail seafood premises). It was also noted that an extension cord was draped across the floor which posed an electrocution risk and trip hazard. This was rectified by calling an electrician to test and tag all electrical equipment and install extra power points to remove the need for extension cords.

Slip Hazards
The location of the cutting room and serving area results in high customer/staff interaction and the potential for an accident. Customers choose their whole fish, which would then be picked up by staff and carried to another counter to be filleted or otherwise prepared. The fish is wet, oily and slippery and must be carried through a public passageway to be cut. This movement of staff, fish, and customers along with hand-cart deliveries causes congestion in the passageway and as a result significantly increases the potential for serious collisions and accidents. To fully control the hazard, the shop would need to be refitted, however in the interim non-slip mats were placed in the passage so as to reduce the likelihood that slips will occur.

Freezers Hazards
It was noted that cracked flooring was causing ice build up on the freezer room floor. This was temporarily solved by installing mats and ensuring staff using the freezer use appropriate footwear, however ultimately the floor will need to be resurfaced to provide a permanent solution. Ice could also be seen building up in a large freezer room as a result of damage to the doorway which caused the door seals to deteriorate and ice to form on the floor and hang down from the door. Ice build up on the floor is extremely dangerous since a worker can easily slip causing serious injury. Such ice is often difficult to see and if left unfixed will build up in layers making it extremely difficult to remove. Since in this situation the freezers are leased, on-going discussions were required regarding the repair of freezer facilities with the facilities owner.

Product Storage
It was noted that seafood boxes are often stacked quickly and without regard for stability. In high traffic areas these may topple onto both customers and staff, and as such it was decided to invest in a simple wall-mounted bracket system to stabilize the loads.

Traffic Hazards
Because the shop is situated in a public market, there is a lot of motorised traffic such as cars, trucks and forklifts mixing with the general public. It was observed that forklifts may enter spaces which a customer might consider pedestrian, so discussions were commenced with the property manager for the placement of bollards to separate the public from hazards.