The Wash Podcast: How to Have a Successful Safety Day at your Food Processing Facility

Welcome to The Wash, your trusted resource for the latest and greatest in public health and hygiene, where we will tackle topics like hand hygiene, best practices in footwear sanitization, creating an employee hygiene program, and more!

On today’s episode, we invite CTO Paul Barnhill and Director of Corporate Success Alison Smith to talk to us about how to have a successful safety day at your food processing facility. You can listen to the podcast using the media player or read the podcast transcript below:


Podcast Transcript: How to Have a Successful Safety Day at your Food Processing Facility 

Abigail: Hello and welcome to another episode of "The Wash", your trusted resource for the latest and greatest in public health and hygiene. Today, I'm joined by two of Meritech's hygiene experts. We have Alison Smith, Director of Corporate Success here at Meritech. Alison, thank you for joining us today.

Alison: Thank you so much, Abigail. I'm very happy to be participating.

Abigail: And also we have Paul Barnhill, Chief Technology Officer at Meritech. Paul, thanks for joining us today.

Paul: Thanks for having me.

Abigail: All right, so today we're gonna talk all about safety days. So I guess my first question is: What is a hygiene safety day?

Paul: Excellent question. What a hygiene safety day is really is a time when you bring your staff together. You really want them to really focus on the importance of hygiene and what that safety day training is going to be. You want them to come together and understand the "why". But to also understand how they play that critical role in achieving that, but you do it in such a way that it's fun, it's interactive, it's educational as well as give them tools that they can take away to understand their importance and their again, key role that they play in safety at the facility, hygiene safety is critical. How that affects both the products they   manufacture, how they interact with their staffs, as well as then how their hygiene behaves in their actions help ultimately their consumers.

Download our comprehensive guide to safety days here! 

Abigail: So Paul why does a hygiene safety day matter ?

Paul: It really matters a again, not only, you know, participating in, having one, and interacting with it and making it fun and joyful and so forth, but it really shows the staff, their commitment back to the corporate responsibilities within the organization. A lot of times in some of the things I've spoken to very often, it was about creating that hygiene social contract. And this is really just part of that reinforcement of that and making sure that they really understand those critical roles and you can kind of loop that together.

You know, we talk about different items to safety, we talk about hygiene in different ways. You know, may you may have that at a huddle talk, you may have that in passing. We have, again, the hard parts of it, which are procedures and things like that, but really what this does, is it brings everybody together that group collectively to understand their roles. I've seen it being performed with, again, Meritech when we're talking about either hand hygiene and footwear hygiene and the important roles that doing simple things like playing hygiene bingo.

Download your hygiene bingo kit here!

But I've also seen it from the guys that provide the PPE, making sure that, "Hey, have you seen the latest and greatest. Hair nets that are no longer. Now there are a total, almost like a face mask?" So it's people getting used to it, so they are familiar with it. They're able to ask questions to understand exactly that.

But the keys is really about showing that corporate responsibility, understanding that corporations don't want to just produce rules and guides that everybody just follows and marches along. They want to be able to ask questions, and participate in this so that they can also contribute to, again, the ultimate goal is making really safe quality products for their consumers.

Abigail: Alright, and I know at one point you mentioned to me before, that safety days kind of help form a habit loop. Can you explain that a little bit?

Paul: So a habit loop is really, you know, it's, it's three things it's really about that cue, that routine and that reward. I mean, the cue here's we know that we have rules that we have to follow and so forth. We then get into the routine that, yeah, I need to wash my hands, you know, either manually for 20 seconds or using a CleanTech Automated System that takes you just 12 seconds to use, but then also following the right order of PPE donning, all that stuff, that is really the routine.

See how 3 times more people can use CleanTech vs automated handwashing in the same time! 

But then the reward of that is understanding like a hygiene safety day can really be somewhat of that reward where you're getting together. You're understanding it like, you know, creating one of the things that we've talked about in the future years, recognizing people, when they've been a hygiene, superhero, this is really key to getting them aligned and together as a group. And again, I'm going to talk about this it, when you're talking about culture of hygiene, it's putting everybody in that line of a flat line of leadership, your executives and your production workers are all in that same flat line of leadership. They all have that responsibility to make certain they adhere and create that culture.

Abigail: So I know you just mentioned that it's creating a flat line of leadership of who exactly participates in a safety day?

Alison: Well, Abigail really safety days encompass everybody within the facility. So everyone needs to be present and involved, you know, just like the hygiene, social contract. Everyone has the same role when it comes to safety. So executives to the production team members all need to participate. And I think it's important for team members to see executives and middle management involved in these types of events.

Abigail: So when exactly should facilities have safety days?

Paul: You know, it really depends on kind of the company and what they do and depends on how big the company is, you know, do they have three shifts? Do they run 24 hours a day, seven days a week?

There are some really important times that they should do them. Obviously when they're making change. When you're making maybe a global change within your organization or you're changing a process flow to where the hygiene process is going to flow through a different area or we're switching to a different type of PPE or we have removed manual sinks and we've put an automated hygiene system. These are the times when you want to make that change.

What you want to do is make sure that your onboarding correctly, you can tie that together with a hygiene safety day to really pull those people together. That's when it's critical for that, but you've got to keep in mind. You have to keep everybody in the organization on that same line. You may run three shifts, you may have to perform three different hygiene safety days and pulling those people in to make sure that everybody again has got the opportunity to participate so that everybody is feeling included.

One of the worst things you can do as an organization is exclude a group, saying "oh, well, they really don't have a whole lot to do with hygiene or safety here." That's the last thing you want to do regardless of their level of involvement, everybody needs to be involved because again, when it comes to hygiene best practices, when it comes to hygiene safety, everybody again is on that flat line, so you need to make sure that they all feel key and pinnacle in their role.

Alison: Paul those are great recommendations, and I would maybe just add if you're looking for you know, a good month or a good day to host a safety day: September is National Food Safety Education month. So it might be great to plan it during September. Also October 15th is Global Handwashing Day. so if you wanted to host a safety day that had a particular focus on the importance of handwashing October 15th could be a great day to select as well.

Looking for educational materials for your safety day? Check out our resource center! 

Paul: Those are actually fantastic suggestions, Allison.

Abigail: So I guess the most important thing for us to know is what constitutes a successful safety day and how do we have one at the facility?

Alison: I think there are a lot of areas that can contribute to a successful safety day. Most importantly, as both Paul and I mentioned earlier, it's really about getting everyone involved. Everyone needs to be present and reinforcing because that goes a long way with the entire team. Also involve your vendors, they can help assist and reinforce how to use their items properly and safely. They may also have opportunities to showcase new safety items to consider.

Use safety days as a time to really address safety incidents that happen throughout the year and how you as a team can come together to learn from them. But having said that it's also really important that as part of a successful safety day, that you keep things light and interactive, right? This is about having fun, making sure that everyone feels involved in the process that they play a key role in safety and that their individual impact is a significant contribution to the organization. So, you know, find ways like hygiene day bingo or maybe give aways like safety day participation t-shirts that can make it fun and interactive for everyone involved.

Abigail: And we have that hygiene day bingo available for you guys to download. So be sure to check that out as part of the Employee Hygiene Toolbox.

So another thing is how do you reinforce the lessons that you learned at a safety day with your team?

Paul: I think the way to reinforce that best is obviously in person when you sit there and you recognize somebody for being that hygiene superhero, you help do that to bring them into that fold. One thing I mentioned, early on in the Employee Hygiene Toolbox is a hygiene mentor, who can also really help people get to that level.

One of the things that Alison and I have had the opportunity to do with a couple companies doing hygiene safety training days and where we're onboarding new equipment. We're really needing to make sure that people understand the proper use of the technology, the right steps, getting them involved in environment that's comfortable for them. Typically, we've done these during like an extended lunch hour or something like that, where they're able to participate. But the key of this, the entire key of making for a successful day is really having that buy-in, because if you have that ownership, and you have created that culture that spreads like a wildfire through your organization. They're highly successful and it can be anything from like Alison mentioned the right PPE being donned when it needs to be donned or changes in PPE to something as simple as possibly changing the different solutions or something that we do like the flow in the facility, all these are pinnacle and you get a great net result directly from your team members, because they receive that information. They expel that information and it runs through the company and it becomes wholistic.

Alison: Yeah, Paul, you know, that's a great point and I often hear you talk about the three P's for hygiene consideration: people Place and Products. And I think the same consideration certainly apply to safety and the importance of reiterating those as an ongoing post the safety day events, just making sure that personal safety is always a consideration that safety of your team is a consideration, also being mindful of your environments and the safety challenges that may be presented in your surroundings. And then lastly, of course, the product just constantly reiterating the importance of product safety, ultimately to your consumers and customers downstream.

Paul: Absolutely excellent point, Alison, because the three P's can never not be considered when you're looking at your facility and understand it's not just like a rigid information. You're the people, the place and the products. Food manufacturing is ever-changing we're reinventing technologies. Oh, now we're dealing with an allergen. Now we're dealing with a raw part. And in an ever changing environment, hygiene has to be the same. You have to do that. And your safety days are the same thing they're ever changing to make sure that you're adapting to the new environment, wherever they're at. Excellent suggestions, Alison.

Abigail: And one of the changes that we're seeing right now with a lot of food processing companies is the adoption of footwear hygiene programs can you talk about how that goes into a safety day, Paul ?

Paul: You know, we, we hear this a lot within food manufacturing, it's more and more of the conversation around footwear. You know, do we use street shoes? Do we have plant shoes? Or do we have captive footwear? Those really are three distinct things.

Obviously street shoes are people's shoes that they buy them themselves and they just wear them every day, in and out of the plant like they do. Then you have plant shoes, shoes that are purchased by the plant, but then that plants shoe is actually taken home, worn wherever. Then you have captive footwear obviously, meaning that footwear is purchased by the plant and so forth and stays within the plant. Those are all three different categories, but one of the things that that often happens, especially when you're talking about plant shoes and you're talking about captive footwear, sometimes this is the opportunity within these safety training days.

It's still a hygiene issue, that still has to be addressed, but that's one of the times when you can really get your employee to gather around it's now something very personal to them. When you ever you do that, and you create that, that behavioral loop, you really get buy in. So you're really able to accomplish multiple things during those hygiene safety training days, you can address the footwear challenge.

You may have different areas within your plant that require people to wear outer thermal coats or something, because they're in a cooler or something like that. That's an opportunity at that time to be able to address that, "Hey, you know, I wear this often, but you know, when I do this, I don't like this". You get that kind of information and that interaction between employee and vendor and/or team leader, you really get more information to make for a better quality system overall.

Abigail: So how is Meritech adapting their safety days to the new environment that we're facing now with COVID-19 and just the extra attention focused on hygiene these days?

Paul: That absolutely is a conversation we're having day in and day out right now, everywhere from our sales team, both inside, outside sales as well as our service engineers in the field, as well as myself down in engineering, we're having these conversations with customers asking us, "how do we adapt to this?" And the communication is the same. We want to adhere to the best practices, the best policies. Obviously hygiene within food has always been at a high standard already, but we're having to make some minor tweaks and adjustments to exactly: What is the flow of the people in the facility? How close can we adhere to those social distancing rules of trying to stay further apart. We're also adapting our technologies to put in social distancing shields between hand washing bays to allow people to come in, and then making sure that they're donning that PPE correctly.

But I think the biggest thing that companies are having to adapt to right now is allowing for that time. Allow them the proper amount of time to go through the hygiene steps as they need to so that they are adhering to these post COVID-19 practices and what we've learned from that to be able to get to do those tasks in hygiene, follow their proper PPE and donning steps and then getting into the facility, but having enough time to do it properly.

I think the biggest challenge some of the facilities have had, just from a mechanical aspect is we just didn't have enough space to be able to do that. So that's the biggest thing where that time allows is cause the hygiene zone wasn't designed originally for having to do social distancing. Now you have to change it, but you don't have to just physically change the space. You can think about the people part of that. Again, the three P's always coming into play it and everything we do that you spread out the people a little bit more in start time. You shifted a little bit so that you can accommodate these needs.

Alison: Excellent points, Paul. I would also just like to add, you know, our experience participating in safety days in the past, really focused on hand-washing as the core point. And that is such an important and critical element of the COVID conversation. But now it really has deepened and broadened our ability to be consultative. Like Paul mentioned, talking about social distancing and how that has to be such a key element of hygiene nowadays, and even going beyond hand-washing to footwear considerations and other elements of the entire hygiene process, really now is, needs to be an all inclusive like our participation in the safety days.

Abigail: Are you guys both mentioned that you participated in safety days both before and after the current situation that is going on right now. So what are the favorite activities that you've seen at safety days?

Paul: That's a that's a great part. You know, one of the things that we do is when we'll come in, obviously it will, we're onboarding a customer new it's obviously showing and teaching how to use the technology correctly, especially when it comes to hand hygiene. This is unique for them, they've not been exposed to this before. You know, and so that's participating in washing your hands, knowing the proper steps. How do you use the technology correctly, but also see the interactivity between usually, which is the QA staff and their own staff directly understanding when you do hygiene bingo, you're asking questions. You're wanting everybody to participate, having some type of again, T-shirts or something that is handed out that, "Hey, we did really well!"

We were in a plant just yesterday that actually had said "We're essential employees. We worked through COVID-19." And to me that ties exactly with this, they knew and recognized their staff that had to be there because of how critical they were during these times of COVID that they needed to be in that facility and continue to produce the food products that they do. That is pinnacle. That's exactly the way to do it. So when you make it that fun, you make it that interactive. You're able to really, again, bridge a gap that should never be there anyway between employer and employee.

Alison: One of the things that I've seen done at safety days that I really loved was the facility leaning on their vendors to really provide a lot of the education and support for that day's events. And even having cards that they would give employees to go around and participate, engage with each vendor or each table that was set up, they would get a stamp or a sticker for doing so. And at the end of visiting with all of the vendors and learning about safety products and considerations, they would turn that into the safety and quality team. There was actually a wheel of prizes and they get to spin the wheel of prizes and select from a variety of takeaways that would help them reflect on what they learned about safety day.

Abigail: Excellent point Allison. all right thank you so much you guys for joining me to talk about safety days today!

Alison: Thanks Abigail.

Paul: Thank you very much.

Abigail: As always you can find any of the assets that we talked about during this episode, such as the hygiene safety day bingo on our website: You'll also find more information there about Meritech-hosted safety days so be sure to check that out.

Thank you so much for tuning into this episode of "The Wash", see you next time!

This podcast is brought to you by Meritech, the leader in automated employee hygiene. Meritech offers a complete line of fully-automated hygiene equipment that provides the only clinically-validated, technology-based approach to human hygiene in the world. Meritech’s line of CleanTech® Automated Handwashing Stations perform a fully-automated 12-second hand wash, sanitize and rinse cycle, removing over 99.9% of dangerous pathogens while wasting zero water or solution. Meritech delivers employee hygiene, contamination control, and infection prevention programs within a wide variety of markets, including food production, food service, cleanroom, healthcare, medical, theme parks, and cruise lines. For more information call 303-790-4670.

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