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Industry Likes OSHA's Ergo Poultry Guidelines, Workers Cry Foul

Poultry processors have praised OSHA for listening to industry as the agency developed its third set of voluntary industry-specific guidelines designed to help reduce the number and severity of repetitive motion injuries.

Labor leaders complained OSHA essentially excluded them from the process, that the document suffers as a result, and contended that voluntary guidelines are no substitute for strong enforcement of a mandatory standard.

The Guidelines for Poultry Processing, released Sept. 2, join those already issued for two industries with large numbers of workers suffering musculoskeletal disorders: retail grocers and nursing homes.

The document contain two main sections: information on how to establish an "ergonomics process" that could apply to any industry and suggestions for workstations, tools, manual material handling, and personal protective equipment that are more tailored to poultry processing.

The guidelines recommend that companies establish an ergonomics process that contains the following elements:

  • Management support;
  • Employee involvement;
  • Training;
  • Identification of problems;
  • Early recognition and reporting of injuries;
  • Evaluation of ergonomic efforts.

"We will continue working with those who've helped us deliver this important product individual firms in the industry, trade and professional associations, labor organizations and the medical community to reduce ergonomic-related injuries, which is always our principal goal," said OSHA Administrator John Henshaw.

Poultry industry representatives congratulated OSHA on both the process it used and the final document that it produced.

"These voluntary guidelines build on existing industry programs that offer employers and employees the flexibility to address ergonomic issues in the workplace in a cooperative, non-adversarial, and nonjudgmental way," said Brie Wilson, the National Turkey Federation's manager of government relations.

"We contributed to this project the lessons we learned in how to avoid ergonomic problems and how to deal with them when they occur," commented Steve Pretanik, the National Chicken Council's director of science and technology.

The guidelines' references include citations from two large poultry processing companies, a poultry industry task force and medical and professional journals, but there are no citations from labor organizations.

"What does that say about how OSHA is doing its work?" asked Robyn Robbins, assistant director in the United Food and Commercial Workers' occupational safety and health office. "It's the way the Bush OSHA has decided to deal with worker issues: leave out the workers."

Robbins contrasted the exclusion of labor from the recent ergonomic guidelines effort to the inclusion of unions in the development of the Meatpacking Guidelines during the first Bush administration.

On the one hand, Robbins said OSHA was "wise" to include in the poultry guidelines the ergonomic program used in the old Meatpacking Guidelines.

But the more recent guidelines document suffers because of OSHA's failure to listen to workers, Robbins contended. "The section on involving employees in the ergonomics process is weak there's nothing on how to involve them."

For example, she said, the document is silent about ergonomic committees with worker representatives, even though these committees have proven to be an effective mechanism to identify hazards.

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