Employee safety has been and will always be a priority for the poultry industry.
Chicken processors continue to focus its efforts on the prevention of workplace injuries by acknowledging the benefit of implementing ergonomics and medical intervention principles, while continually implementing new technology and automation in the workplace.
These efforts are netting tangible results that demonstrates the vast advancements the industry has made in improving employee safety.
The incidence of occupational injuries and illnesses within the poultry sector’s slaughter and processing workforce has fallen 86 percent over the last 25 years and continues to decline according to the most recent Injury and Illness Report released by the U.S. Department of Labor.
The total recordable poultry processing illness and injury rate for 2019 was 3.2 cases per 100 full-time workers (per year), down from 3.5 in 2018. The poultry industry’s rate of 3.25 was below the rate of 5.1 for similar agricultural industries in terms of injuries per 100 full-time workers and lower than the rate of 4.0 for the entire food manufacturing sector, while all of manufacturing was 3.0.
This is the first time the industry’s injury rate has fallen below the all manufacturing category.
While the past 25 years has seen a dramatic decrease in the numbers and rates injury and illnesses occurring in the industry, the poultry industry will continue to seek new and innovative ways to protect our workforce. Ongoing efforts to improve the poultry industry’s record in worker safety include:
- In late 2019, the poultry industry partnered with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) to form an official alliance to share information, guidance and access to training resources that will help further improve the significant gains made in poultry worker safety over the past 25 years. The shared goals for the alliance include raising awareness of health and safety practices and programs through outreach and communication in addition to training and education; Sharing non-competitive practices, culminating with the release of a whitepaper, Ergonomics in the Poultry Industry – A Review of 25 Years of Industry Efforts, which documents many of the industry’s efforts to improve worker safety. This report was updated in 2020;
- Partnering with the Georgia Tech Research Institute to develop an instrument to assess musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) risks in poultry tasks. The tool measures upper extremity stresses associated with poultry deboning and cutting tasks, and provide quantitative data to help in workstation and tool redesign and process workflow improvements to reduce the stresses and strains associated with repetitive work;
- Continuing to work with equipment manufacturers and suppliers to improve machine guarding on new equipment and the provision of adequate disconnects to assist and facilitate proper lock out/tag out (LOTO) procedures;
- Collaborating with personal protective equipment suppliers. This has led to improvements in cut resistance of protective handwear, reduced fogging issues with safety eyewear, and improved slip resistance in safety footwear to address lacerations, foreign objects/splashes and slip, trips and falls;
- Conducting monthly meetings of the Poultry Industry Safety & Health Committee to share best practices in hazard identification and risk control;
- Maintaining a Poultry Industry Safety Recognition Awards program that honors poultry processing plants that have injury and illness rates below the industry average for three consecutive years. Through the implementation of innovative and effective programs, this year more than 230 plants were recognized; and
- Holding an annual safety conference for the past 35 years – the National Safety Conference for the Poultry Industry.