One of Britain’s largest bakery firms features in a new documentary, ‘Supermarkets: The Real Price of Cheap Food’, being broadcast tonight on Channel 4, which looks at the supermarket supply chain and the working conditions of those involved in it.
We have learnt that Honeytop Speciality Foods is facing a probe by the fire service and government regulators after an undercover investigation revealed serious Health and Safety failings which placed the lives of workers at risk.
The investigation at its Dunstable factory has discovered a fire exit blocked, but also signs for the exit that were obscured by the production line. It also seems that new employees were not given any fire drill training even though there had been three fires at the factory between May & June this year. At one of them, more than 30 fire-fighters from Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue tackled a blaze at the factory after one of the ovens used for baking naan breads caught fire.
Apparently, it's not only fire safety which is in question at the factory. Secret filming showed workers risking serious personal injury, with a man clambering onto a conveyor belt and climbing into a machine to keep the production lines running.
Honeytop Speciality Foods employs hundreds of people at its factory in Dunstable, Bedfordshire, and supplies all Britain’s major supermarkets with everything from pizza bases and naan breads to tortilla wraps. The company’s website boasts, “We put the health and safety of our team at the core of our business.”
An undercover reporter working at the factory was not given any safety training. Despite signs telling workers to wear ear protectors and hard hats, the reporter had not been given any. The documentary apparently shows workers handing food with their bare hands, in breach of food hygiene guidelines.
The Health & Safety Executive currently has no open investigation or complaint against Honeytop Speciality Foods, but they have not yet seen the footage from Channel 4’s investigation. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) however is already taking action.
Poor practice must be eradicated in food and other supply chains, and working conditions must be improved. It should never be the case that employees are put at risk for the demands of the industry; whatever that industry. Where there is a breach of health and safety legislation, there is the potential for accidents at work. Injuries need to be prevented by good practice within every workplace.
In the light of the findings of the investigation, Honeytop is to mount an internal review of how it operates, but this is just the latest of a series of health and safety issues to have come to light in the factory.
An investigation by the HSE in 2012 led to it being fined more than £9,000 for breaking health and safety laws by exposing workers to up to six times the legal limit of flour dust sufficient to cause occupational asthma.
The company had been warned about the levels five years previously but failed to act! In June 2011, six illegal immigrants were arrested after a raid by around 100 police and UK Border Agency officials at the company’s factory in Dunstable.
Tracey Graham is a Personal Injury Lawyer specialising in work accident claims at Slater and Gordon UK.
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