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Prevention of Musculoskeletal Injuries in Poultry Processing – What Every Poultry Processor Should Know

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued an updated report entitled “Prevention of Musculoskeletal Injuries in Poultry Processing.”  The purpose of this report is to make recommendations for poultry processors to reduce both the severity and number of employment-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).  This report was prepared by reviewing industry best standards and practices as well as scientific information relating to ergonomic risk factors at poultry processing facilities.

These guidelines are designed to protect workers, describing different solutions being used in poultry processing facilities.

OSHA acknowledges that particularly small employers may not need every system described in the report and they may need assistance in implementing some of these recommendations to help prevent MSDs.  OSHA provides free assistance to help small employers implement changes such as those recommended here, as well as other health and safety issues.  These services are provided independently of any OSHA enforcement activity.

Background

The poultry processing industry began to recognize the problem of work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) in the mid-1980s.  MSDs include injuries to muscles, nerves, tendons and supporting structures of the wrists, hands neck, shoulders, elbows and low back.  Poultry processors developed guidelines for training and identifying ergonomic hazards and creating solutions to reduce risk factors in 1986.  This included early medical intervention to avoid MSDs and costs associated with MSDs.

OSHA’s work continued, and in August 1993, it published “Ergonomics Program for Meatpacking Plants.”  These guidelines made specific recommendations for employers to implement to identify and fix worksite ergonomic problems.

In 2004, OSHA published the original version of this document, “Guidelines for the Prevention of Musculoskeletal Disorders.”

In spite of this work, MSDs are still common among poultry processing workers.  According to industry reports in 2011 and 2012, MSDs among workers in this industry are five times higher than the average for all U.S. industries.

Specifically, the rate for carpal tunnel syndrome was three times the national average in 2012.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that of the total of 3,620 days away from work due to occupational injury in the poultry industry, in 2011 and 2012, 1,190 days, or 33 percent, were due to MSDs

Recommendations

Although poultry processing plants can vary widely, effective prevention of MSDs in poultry plant workers generally include the following critical elements: support by management, participation by employees, appropriate training, regular review of illness and injury reports, implementing systems that work and progress evaluation.  These solutions should be tailored to an individual processing facility’s needs.  OSHA recommends that processors develop a system based on the following and incorporate them into existing health and safety programs.

Support by Management

Management must be committed for an ergonomics process to be effective.  Management support must be visible to workers.  This can be done by committing adequate resources to the process; communicating the importance of worker safety issues; implementing health and safety solutions into processes and production improvements; assigning and communicating responsibility for enacting procedures to appropriate managers and supervisors, and complying with prohibition on retaliation for workers who report work-related illnesses and injuries.

Participation by Employees

Employee participation must be included for an ergonomics process to be effective.  This improves both problem-solving and identification of potential hazards.  Another benefit comes when changes are imposed and implemented.  If employees are involved in the process, they are much more likely to accept those changes.  Encouraging employee participation can be assisted by encouraging early reporting of MSD symptoms and suggested changes or complaints regarding ergonomic changes without retaliation; consistent communication with employees about the latest information regarding the ergonomic process; creation of a system for employees to engage in the design of procedures and equipment, as well as the reporting of training and workplace hazards; and formally requesting feedback from employees on the workplace.

Appropriate Training

Training for all employees is vital to the effective ergonomics process.  This should cover all employees, including contract and temporary workers.  The training is to ensure that all employees understand the ergonomics concerns in the workplace.  To minimize the risk of injury, all employees must be taught the importance of early reporting of MSD symptoms.  Training must be provided by experienced individuals and must be done in a language the workers can understand.  In addition to all-worker training, OSHA recommends that poultry processing workers receive job-specific training on preventing MSDs.

Regular Review of Illness and Injury Reports

The entire poultry production facility must be reviewed periodically. In addition to reviewing from an ergonomics perspective specific workplace designs and the overall production practices, all company’s illness and injury records must be examined.  Existing problem areas must be identified.

This process is important, but it is even more important for an employer to be proactive. Employers should look for possible ergonomic issues that have gone unnoticed or have resulted from changes in the process.

Implementing Systems That Work

The costs discussed above related to MSDs can be greatly reduced by making changes at the workplace based on appropriate ergonomic principles.

Ergonomic solutions for poultry processors can range from changes in administrative actions, equipment and workstations, work practices, and personal protective equipment (PPE).  OSHA does not expect that every poultry processing facility will implement every suggestion and the list is not meant to be exhaustive.  Facilities are encouraged to develop solutions unique to their situation and needs.

Engineering solutions are recommended where possible.  Employers should also consider ergonomics when designing new facilities or modifying facilities.  Changes are easier and cheaper to implement in the design phase.

Progress Evaluation

All of these recommendations are to create an ergonomics plan to prevent MSDs.  Evaluating and monitoring progress is very important.  Follow-up is vital for long-term success and continuous improvement.  OSHA recommends regular evaluation of the MSD prevention process to determine whether the facility’s program is meeting its objectives and goals.  Input is needed from management and employees.  Employers may also consider a medical surveillance program to monitor employee MSD symptoms and other health issues.

Workplace Injuries Should Not Be Ignored!

If you have been injured in the workplace, or if your workplace environment doesn’t include best practices for your health and safety, you may have a claim.  Contact the determined workers’ compensation lawyers in Atlanta at The Bader Law Firm, LLC for a free consultation to discuss your case today!

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