Poultry Industry Survey Reveals A Few Surprises

. . . Last fall PoultryTech reported on the U.S. Department of Labor’s decision to take an in-depth look at the poultry industry’s performance relative to safety and health and wage and hour regulations. The field phase of the investigation was completed late last year, and the study findings were compiled earlier this year. These findings* were presented by Bill Fulcher, safety manager for federal and state operations in OSHA’s Atlanta Regional Office, at the 1998 Safety Workshop for the Poultry Industry held June 3-5 in Atlanta.

Bill Fulcher, safety manager for federal and state operations in OSHA’s Atlanta Regional Office, presented the survey findings at the 1998 Safety Workshop for the Poultry Industry.

. . . During the field phase of the study, investigative teams visited a total of 53 plant sites in the fall of 1997. The three-to-four day visits included a series of information-gathering tasks, including collecting OSHA 200 and 101 logs. Each team conducted walkaround inspections and made notes on the frequency of potential problems. Management and labor representatives were interviewed about the Safety and Health Program as outlined in the survey, and the team rated the program in terms of implementation of management commitment and employee involvement, hazard recognition and analysis, hazard control, and employee information and training. Questions in the survey related to key elements of workplace safety, including recordkeeping, lost and restricted workday events, lockout/tagout procedures, ergonomic hazards, health hazards (chemical, biological, physical), electrical safety, confined space, and emergency preparedness.

. . . The survey found that 40 percent of all injuries and illnesses were back injuries. Ten percent were the result of cumulative traumas (repetitive motion). Contusions and fractures made up a further 15 percent, while cuts and lacerations accounted for another 10 percent.

. . . Slippery floors resulting from water and poultry fat/grease were observed to be the leading cause of back injuries, strains, and sprains. Narrow walkways and crowded workspaces hindered movement causing strains, sprains, contusions, and back injuries. Manually moving objects were also to blame for strains, sprains, and back injuries. The use of knives in crowded work areas accounted for lacerations and cuts, while cumulative trauma disorders from repetitive motions in the cutting operations accounted for tendonitis and carpal tunnel disorders.

“Some of the results surprised us; 40 percent of the injuries were back injuries from slips, trips, and falls, not repetitive motion as we guessed prior to the survey.”

. . . In all, more than 75 percent of worker injuries and illnesses were due to back and repetitive motion injuries and illnesses; cuts or lacerations; struck by or against an object; and slips, trips, or falls.

. . . The survey further identified five underlying factors found to impact injuries and illnesses: safety and health personnel with collateral duties who have little time to devote to health and safety; inadequate hazard evaluation for personal protective equipment (PPE); requiring workers to pay for PPE, including hearing protection; crowded working conditions; and training and language barriers.

. . . “The survey allows OSHA and the poultry industry to recognize areas at each plant that are causing injuries and illnesses to workers,” notes Fulcher. He also believes that based on the survey’s safety and health data, OSHA may be able to tailor some of its outreach efforts to plants that need assistance.

. . . “Some of the results surprised us,” continues Fulcher, “40 percent of the injuries were back injuries from slips, trips, and falls, not repetitive motion as we guessed prior to the survey.” The survey did, however, confirm OSHA’s opinion that the industry needed to do more in terms of lockout/tagout and machine guarding.

. . . “Lockout/tagout should be 100 percent effective and certified annually,” stresses Fulcher. He maintains that if a plant is not effective in this area, it should reorganize and retrain its employees to eliminate needless injuries. His opinion is that there is no excuse not to have an effective lockout/tagout procedure in place. The survey also pointed out that plants needed to completely develop and implement process safety management in regard to refrigeration systems.

. . . Steve Pretanik of the National Broiler Council says that the survey demonstrated that overall the industry was not the bad actor OSHA may have originally thought it to be. Pretanik agrees with Fulcher in that the major surprise of the survey (albeit a surprise to OSHA and not the industry) is that a significant amount of injuries were attributed to back injuries from slips, trips, and falls, not to musculoskeletal injuries.

. . . “The survey showed that as an industry we are making great strides in improving ergonomics; carpal tunnel numbers have come down,” says Pretanik. OSHA has, however, expressed the desire to work with industry in bringing down the number of injuries due to slips, trips, and falls, and Pretanik says the industry is ready to do so.