Volume 16 | Number 3 | Fall 2004

Safety Issue

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Ergonomics Guidelines Issued for Industry

Rules Build Upon Industry Programs

By Barbara Olejnik

Federal ergonomics guidelines for the poultry processing industry, which built upon programs already established by the industry, were greeted with approval by industry groups as a demonstration of the industry’s commitment to programs to help protect poultry workers. The voluntary ergonomics guidelines for the poultry processing industry, “Guidelines for Poultry Processing,” were announced September 8 by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA).

“ We were pleased to work with OSHA on these guidelines,” said Steve Pretanik, National Chicken Council director of science and technology. “The industry has extensive experience in ergonomics, and many companies already have guidelines in place. We contributed to this project the lessons we learned in how to avoid ergonomic problems and how to deal with them when they occur.”

Brie Wilson, National Turkey Federation manager for government relations, added, “These voluntary guidelines build in existing industry programs that offer employer and employees the flexibility to address ergonomic issues in the workplace in a cooperative, non-adversarial and nonjudgmental way.” “The improvement came about through industry’s recognition of the problem and commitment to research and development of workable solutions,” Wilson noted.

Pretanik added, “This demonstrates the industry’s longstanding commitment to ergonomic programs to help protect poultry industry workers.”
OSHA Administrator John Henshaw, in announcing the guidelines, noted that most poultry processing facilities have made “substantial efforts” to address ergonomic-related injuries, and the voluntary guidelines are “intended to build upon progress made in the poultry processing industry.”

The poultry processing industry began to focus on the problem of work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) in the mid-1980s. In 1986, members of the poultry processing industry developed a guideline advocating training, the process of ergonomics, and medical intervention as a means to reduce the occurrence of MSDs and their associated costs. Many poultry processing facilities initiated ergonomics programs based upon recommendations contained in OSHA’s 1993 guidelines set for the meatpacking industry.

OSHA noted that the poultry processing industry has reduced occupational injuries and illnesses by almost half during the last 10 years. However, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, of the 3,000 cases with days away from work that occurred in the poultry processing industry in 2002, more than 30 percent, or 976 cases, were MSDs. Also, OSHA noted, many poultry processing jobs involve physically demanding work.

The guidelines issued by OSHA are intended to help reduce a variety of injuries and illnesses that occur from repeated use or overexertion, including: carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, rotator cuff injuries, epicondylitis (an elbow problem), trigger finger, muscle strains, and low back injuries. OSHA stated, however, that the guidelines are “advisory in nature and informational in content. They are not a new standard or regulation and do not create
any new OSHA duties.”

The recommendations, OSHA said, were developed with the idea that they could be adapted to the needs and resources of each individual place of employment. Thus, the agency noted, implementation of the guidelines may differ from site to site depending on the circumstances at each particular site.

The guidelines also only address physical factors in the workplace that are related to the development of MSDs. Poultry processors can usually meet the goal of reduced MSDs by changing work methods, equipment, or workstations. “Many changes can be made without significantly increasing costs, and many ergonomics changes result in increased efficiency by reducing the time needed to perform a task,” OSHA said.

At the same time, OSHA recognized that small employers may not need such a comprehensive program and may also need assistance in implementing an appropriate ergonomics plan. A free OSHA consultation service, independent of OSHA’s enforcement activity, is available to help small employers with ergonomics and other safety and health issues. Information about the service can be found on the OSHA web site at

The OSHA-recommended ergonomic solutions for poultry processing include engineering changes to workstations and equipment, work practices, personal protective equipment, and administrative actions. While the recommended solutions are not intended to be an exhaustive list, and are only examples of ergonomic solutions, OSHA said that “Individual poultry processing facilities should try to use these ideas as a starting point as they look for other innovative methods that will meet their facility’s needs.”

“ Guidelines for Poultry Processing,” which includes descriptions and illustrations of various workstations and equipment, can be accessed at


Barbara Olejnik is an associate editor of Poultry Times. This article originally appeared in the newspaper’s September 27, 2004, issue. Reprinted with permission.