Feed safety culture: crucial for effective feed safety control
Feed companies spend a lot of effort and money to control the safety of their products, in order to satisfy their customers and to reduce financial risks. Quality management systems are introduced, improvements in buildings and machineries are realized, records are kept, performances are monitored and results are analyzed and evaluated to induce further improvements.
When a company introduces a feed safety assurance system, a third party carries out an independent compliance assessment with normative standards on a regular base. These assessments by means of audits are carried out according to certain methodologies and with well-defined tools. All these facilities, methods and tools are the 'hardware' side of the feed safety assurance system. However, the human-factor cannot be neglected or underestimated.
The human factor is about the people operating in the certified companies on a daily basis. A precondition is that these people are equipped with the proper knowledge and competences. Knowledge about the own products and processes but also about their service providers. Additionally, staff needs to understand risk assessment methodologies, etc. This knowledge can be obtained by professional education and regular training. Because not each person in a company knows everything, cooperation in a (HACCP) team is important to bring all knowledge and experiences together.
A feed safety incident could be caused by a human failure or error. GMP+ International has an Early Warning System (EWS), where GMP+ FSA certified companies must notify GMP+ International when specific feed safety limits are exceeded. The cause of the contamination is always investigated. In 2015, in about 10% of the EWS cases "human failure" was mentioned. There is no reference to compare this with it, so we cannot conclude that it is low, normal or high.
Surely, people make mistakes. But why do we make mistakes or cause errors? Is it the individual's fault? Latent organizational weaknesses include work processes, and, as figure 1 shows, such work processes usually are an important factor behind human failures. That could be also the cause of the human failure, but it depends on the frequency of the errors and whether it is culpably or not.
It is important that an organization and individuals are willing to learn from mistakes. A pre-condition is to avoid blaming in case of incidental mistakes. Blaming will result in hiding future mistakes instead of learning from it. The clue is a root cause analysis to obtain keys for improvement.
A not-blaming atmosphere in a company is all about the culture of organization. Culture is about the human factor influencing the functionality of a feed safety management system. That is called feed safety culture. Feed and food safety is more than just a system, it is also about culture. This issue is clearly addressed by Mr. Frank Yiannas in his publication "Food Safety Culture - Creating a Behavior-Based Food Safety Management System" (2010).
Although this publication is mainly focused on the US food industry and on microbiology, one statement is extremely relevant. That statement that: "food safety is not a priority; it must be a value".
When an entrepreneur considers feed safety assurance as a priority, it can be high or low depending on other (often short term) priorities and financial situation. However, if an entrepreneur considers the production of safe feed as a company value, feed safety assurance is always applicable at the same level of urgency. Then it becomes a driving force for daily operations and the focus is on the long term continuity. A company value determines the behavior of the employees in the daily operations. Many feed & food safety incidents are caused by a lack of responsible behavior of employees (Griffith, 2008).
Feed safety culture truly boils down to how employees think about, approach, and execute their daily tasks within a feed-making environment. Culture is learned by becoming part of an organization and being immersed in the behavior of the members or the organization. An organization with a value system founded on trust and an understanding of the importance of safety will have a positive feed safety culture. Each person within the organization is involved. The management of a company is mostly determining the company culture. The mind-set of a manager influences the mind-set of all employees. When a manager prevails earning money above assuring the safety of the products or service delivered to customers, it can result in risky behavior. For instance, in co-mingling inferior products with a higher or unknown risk profile with products with a proper quality level.
Culture within an organization is also highly influenced by the dominant culture in society. This can differ from country to country, making it difficult for managers to develop and implement a proper feed safety culture. (see figure 2). Realizing this can be a starting position for a change process.
In this regard, the management of a company should take the lead in changing the culture by determining proper values and beliefs and by complying with it in their own daily operations and making of decisions, showing societal responsibility, being accountable, reliable and credible.
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Article made possible through the contribution of Johan den Hartog and GMP+ International