Safety, regardless of the industry, can contain many moving pieces including having the right personal protective equipment (PPE), developing a safety culture, or even putting innovation in the workplace to use.
While this is true for most, for those in meat-and-poultry processing, by the very nature of the industry, putting these things into practice can be much more difficult.
In 2018 alone, the meat-and-poultry processing industry produced revenues close to 30 billion dollars, continuing to make it the largest, most profitable segment of the United States’ agriculture industry.
However, the work required for the average employee can be daunting at times; it can be physically taxing and some of the tools can prove fatal if used incorrectly. The need for consistent safety programs has never been stronger.
For those directly involved, this process can begin by recognizing specific hazards and knowing how to react if and when an accident does occur.
Hazardous Tools: Are You Safe?
In meat-and-poultry processing, in order to cut, prepare, and package products, the use of sharp, highly-specialized blades, knives, saws, and other tools is all but required.
Used improperly or with poor training, however, these tools can become deadly, with the possibility of amputations, severe injury or long-term damage considerably higher than in other sectors of manufacturing.
There are three notable factors that contribute to this:
- Worker turnover is not only frequent but also incredibly high. While hiring orientations and on-the-job training are provided, the amount of training given can be limited in some cases as new employees are expected to quickly step into vacant positions. Some plants can experience turnover rates of 100% annually.
- Processing lines. Designed to operate as quickly and efficiently as possible, workers may be unable to keep up with the chosen speed, often leading to dangerous but preventable injuries. In many cases, workers are put in harm’s way by having to use knives in extremely close quarters to each other while dissecting or slicing, increasing the possibility of infection.
- Shift responsibilities. While shifts are of a standard length, the physical strain of the processing line can leave employees exhausted by the time they reach the end of day and at greater risk of injuring themselves. Rotating responsibilities can help to keep employees fresh.
Although it is impossible to guard or protect against everything, by being proactive and aware of the risks, unnecessary accidents can be avoided.
The Physical and Ergonomic Strain
More perhaps, than any other manufacturing industry, meat-and-poultry processing workers may endure intense physical and ergonomic strain during their workday. For those working on a line, hanging or cutting an animal, they may find themselves at risk for a Repetitive Stress Injury (RSI).
These injuries can occur when a person performs the same tasks over-and-over again, causing damage and irritation to the used muscle and tendon groups, which can include the upper body, hands, wrists, and back. Additionally, given their specific tasks, workers may also be at risk for over-exposure to cold, noise, or vibration dangers.
To combat these hazards, including the possible development of an RSI, exercise the affected areas regularly (if you’re unable to modify your workstation), protect it with a splint or muscle wrapping, or wear the correct PPE to avoid potential damage.
As with any industry, there is no way to prevent all accidents or injuries. On average, poultry plants will process close to 140 chickens per minute and although the debate over productivity and safety continues, accommodations could possibly be made as needed, including going through the Hierarchy of Hazard Controls.
Even when following all safety procedures, staying alert on the processing line is a must and catching foreign objects in food products can be critical. Wearing the right gloves can make all the difference. Our Metal Head gloves are the latest innovation in metal-detectable technology. Take a look.