Food In Canada

Industry Insiders Identify Top Safety Risks and Opportunities in Food Manufacturing: Inadequate Lockout tag out the number one priority

By Todd Humber for WSPS   

Food In Canada
Sponsored by Workplace Safety & Prevention Services

Inadequate lockout/tag out (LOTO) of equipment has been identified as the leading workplace safety risk in Ontario’s food manufacturing industry, according to a comprehensive risk assessment facilitated by Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS).

For Rob Ellis, it’s a deeply personal issue. He lost his 18-year-old son David in a LOTO incident at a bakery in Oakville in 1999. David was killed on just his second day on the job while removing cookie dough from an industrial mixer that activated unexpectedly.

“It’s disappointing inadequate LOTO is still the number one risk, disconcerting to hear of the number of injuries as a result,” said Ellis, who is co-founder of MySafeWork. “We’ve seen positive changes, but we know there is still a huge amount of work to be done at all levels.”

According to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), there were 158 lost-time injury (LTI) claims related to machine contact in the food manufacturing sector in 2022 alone. This accounted for eight per cent of all lost-time injuries in the industry.


Hamish Morgan, a consulting services manager at WSPS, said workers in the sector suffered higher than average lost-time injuries (LTIs) in 2020.

“These (essential) workers were exceptionally hard hit during the pandemic, and continue to face many challenges,” said Morgan.

Identifying risks from the inside

The risk assessment brought together subject matter experts from diverse companies across Ontario for an in-depth evaluation of occupational health and safety issues.

It was conducted with the support of Food & Beverage Ontario, Meat & Poultry Ontario, and the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development (MLITSD) and the participation of various companies including Dare Foods, FGF Brands, MARS Petcare, and RDJ Bakeries.

“The aim was to bring broad insights to the table. To ensure multiple viewpoints were presented, companies of various sizes from both unionized and non-unionized environments were included — and diverse topics, such as the use of temporary workers, were explored,” said Morgan.

The first workshop, held in October 2022, uncovered a total of 60 hazardous events. That led to an in-depth discussion followed by a voting process to pare down the risks down to a top 10 list.

Michael Pesce of FGF Brands said it was valuable to hear outside perspectives. “We were able to look at all these different hazards through a lens that was outside of the scope of what we’re used to day-to-day,” he said.

Focus on LOTO

With the number one risk pinpointed, a follow-up root cause analysis workshop was held over two days in February of this year. It gave experts a chance to explore the specific issues surrounding LOTO.

They aimed to identify the underlying causes and brainstorm practical solutions. The result was a series of recommendations, addressing various stakeholders — employers, workers, industry associations, and governmental bodies.

It led to the creation of this risk statement: “Exposure to hazardous energy, associated with inadequate lockout/tag out of equipment, can have serious consequences for workers, organizations and supporting community.”

While most organizations have written procedures on how to do LOTO properly, there is an opportunity for better training and more effective real-world implementation, said Deepa Sarao, consulting services manager at WSPS and co-facilitator of the workshop.

That’s because the perception at the worker level can be different than what’s in the written policy.

“We often hear things like, ‘Why would I lockout/tag out when it’s going to waste 10 minutes of my time to restart the machine again?’ The pressure for production is a big deal in manufacturing,” she said.

Differing perspectives: Management versus front line

Though there was broad agreement among experts on the primary issues, some differences emerged. Management emphasized leadership commitment and risk perception, while workers pointed to gaps in procedures and training.

“It’s a good thing that these perspectives came out,” said Sarao. “Management representatives in the room heard it directly from the worker representatives in the room because the workers felt safe to share,” said Sarao.

Kiran Kapoor, WSPS vice-president of service delivery, said the misalignment is a “bit of a signal that more conversation needs to be taking place.”

“It may come down to the basics in terms of do you have a psychologically healthy and safe work environment, where workers feel safe to speak up?” she said. “Temporary workers and new and young workers are also potentially at higher risk, as not all of them will be familiar with the hazards that are present in food manufacturing.”

Ellis acknowledged the high turnover in the industry but said the message around inadequate LOTO in food manufacturing is clear.

“We can do better together. We need to do better,” he said. “Together, we can create a workplace culture where people are valued and protected.”

The path forward

The workshops yielded five key recommendations for improving LOTO, calling for collaborative efforts that include information sharing, rule-setting, and training. Implementation will require active participation from employers, workers, and regulatory bodies.

The key takeaway is clear: Only through continued engagement and open dialogue can the industry transform inadequate LOTO from a significant risk into a strong point of organizational safety.


The five recommendations

  1. Provide information: Give comprehensive information on the importance of effective LOTO, highlighting risks through real-life examples of injuries and legal repercussions.
  2. Guidelines for success: Establish a LOTO program and procedures guide that outlines roles and responsibilities, along with accountabilities. Include plain language placards and visual aids for easy understanding and a needs assessment for any new/modified equipment.
  3. Empower training: Create a LOTO training guide that covers both general principles and equipment-specific procedures. Ensure trainers are competent, verify knowledge transfer and foster a supportive learning culture.
  4. Standards: Set standards for LOTO points and devices, ensuring accessibility and easy identification. Consider incorporating lockout points into legislated Pre-Start Health and Safety Reviews.
  5. Monitoring and enforcement: Define clear internal requirements and designate responsible individuals for monitoring and providing coaching/mentoring support. For government, conduct targeted inspections and share injury/prosecution statistics to emphasize importance of compliance.

The top 10 root causes leading to inadequate LOTO

The top 10 primary causal factors in Ontario’s food manufacturing sector were identified as:

  1. Leadership commitment
  2. Lack of procedures (program)
  3. Inadequate training
  4. Low risk perception/acceptance of risk
  5. Rushing
  6. Procedures not followed
  7. Inadequate monitoring and enforcement
  8. Lockout points not accessible
  9. Inadequate procedure
  10. Inadequate metrics (production rate, downtime, financial growth)


To access the Food Manufacturing Risk Assessment and Root Cause Analysis white paper, technical paper and infographics, connect with Workplace Safety & Prevention Services at 

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