OSHA Releases Draft Ergonomics Guidelines for Poultry Processors

OSHA's attempt to use voluntary measures to deal with ergonomics advanced another step today as the agency announced it is seeking comment on a third set of industry-specific ergonomic guidelines, "Guidelines for Poultry Processing."

OSHA completed work on guidelines for the nursing home industry, released a draft of ergonomic guidelines for retail grocers, and is working on guidelines for the shipyard industry. Unlike the recently released nursing home ergonomic guidelines, the poultry guidelines do not refer to a specific case study of an employer who has implemented a successful ergonomic program.

The poultry processing guidelines draw heavily on OSHA's 1990 meatpacking guidelines, according to OSHA Administrator John Henshaw.

"Many of our stakeholders told us that the meatpacking guidelines have been successfully implemented in many poultry processing facilities," he explained.

According to OSHA, largely by using the ergonomic program management guidelines for the meatpacking industry, the poultry processing industry has reduced occupational injuries and illnesses by almost half over the last 10 years, from 23.2 per 100 full-time workers in 1992 to 12.7 in the year 2001. Despite these efforts, musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are still prevalent in the poultry processing industry.

The draft guidelines consist of an introduction and two main sections. The introduction provides an overview of injuries related to ergonomic factors in poultry processing and explains the role of ergonomics in reducing these injuries.

The introduction points out that according to 2001 Bureau of Labor data, musculoskeletal disorders accounted for nearly 30 percent of all cases with days away from work in the poultry industry. Some poultry facilities process approximately 140 chickens a minute and 60 turkeys a minute. Some poultry workers make over 20,000 cuts a day processing chickens and turkeys.

These processing tasks involve several risk factors. These include:

  • Repetition - performing the same motion or series of motions continually or frequently.
  • Force - the amount of physical effort required to perform a task (such as heavy lifting) or to maintain control of equipment or tools.
  • Awkward and static postures - assuming positions that place stress on the body, such as reaching above shoulder height, kneeling, squatting, leaning over a worktable, or twisting the torso while lifting, or holding fixed positions.
  • Vibration - utilizing hand-held power tools that can increase the stress on the hands and arms.

The first section describes how to develop and implement a strategy for analyzing the workplace, implementing ergonomic solutions, training employees, addressing injury reports, and evaluating progress.

The second section, the heart of the guidelines, describes examples of ergonomics solutions that may be used in the poultry processing industry, including recommendations on workstation design, tools, manual materials handling, and the selection of personal protective equipment.

The draft guidelines conclude with a list of references and helpful resources.

Information on how to submit written comments on the poultry guidelines can be obtained on OSHA's Web site (www.osha.gov) and the draft guidelines are now available at www.osha.gov/SLTC/ergonomics/guidelines.html

Interested parties wishing to comment on the draft guidelines for the poultry industry must submit written comments to the OSHA Docket Office by August 4. After the conclusion of the comment period, there will be a stakeholder meeting in the Washington, DC metropolitan area to discuss the draft guidelines. Individuals are required to submit their intent to participate in this one-day stakeholder meeting by August 4. Location and date will be announced at a later date.

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