Health and safety legislation means that handling and lifting equipment is now required to take on jobs that, previously, were often carried out manually.
For example, the company Thomas Tunnock has recently invested in the vacuum lifting equipment from Palamatic to assist with lifting sacks onto its production line. They now use a vacuum tube lifter to assist the operator when picking up 45kg sacks from a pallet and reposition onto an existing chute, where the sacks are then opened to feed other baking machinery. In addition, a second lifter allows an operator to grip and lift 25kg sacks of brown sugar for transfer from a palled stack to a container.
To cover the required working area for each specific process, the vacuum lifters in this instance are mounted onto swing jib arms. This ensures that the working environment is improved for the operators when manual handling becomes a problem. The vacuum tube lifters are an obvious advantage when having to meet health and safety requirements - an employee who suffers serious injury while lifting does not simply represent a loss in productivity, but could also lead to an expensive compensation case.
Indeed, the Health and Safety Executive reports that handling activities are the single largest cause of injuries and ill health in the food industry - manual handling injuries cause over 30% of all reported injuries. Therefore, the HSE has helped contribute to the industry's list of priorities for manual handling, and at the top of the list is the need to use mechanical aids such as vacuum lifters - wherever possible when stacking or de-stacking.
The importance of health and safety has also led in recent years to a gradual decrease in the unit weights of sacks and boxes used in the production process. Traditionally, manufacturers and distributors were often prone to using sacks weighing over 50kg, but given the safe weight for most people to lift is around half that, in recent times the norm from ingredient suppliers has been around 25kg. Even in these cases, however, a risk assessment is still required to ensure that employees safety is not compromised.
Heavier unit loads should only be considered if these handling aids are always available, and even when the load is considered light enough for someone to lift manually, the employer should ensure that there are no adverse factors - such as awkward delivery access or flights of stairs - anywhere in the supply chain.
Thankfully the latest handling and lifting equipment helps to make the job easier and more efficient for all involved. As the supply chain becomes more and more complex, having such equipment on call at all times can be a huge advantage and, in the long run, save huge amounts of money.