Changes in Policy May Decrease Worker Injuries

Policy changes such as job rotation and worker safety committees could reduce worker injuries, according to researchers from Wake Forest University School of Medicine, who conducted a study of 200 poultry workers.

"Policy changes are needed to improve the health and safety of workers," said Joseph Grzywacz, Ph.D. a researcher from the Wake Forest University School of Medicine and lead author of the report.

The survey involved face-to-face interviews with 200 Hispanic poultry workers, based on a representative sample of workers in six counties in North Carolina. Results of the data collected showed that the workers' jobs require frequent awkward postures and repetitive movement. Workers also reported that they had minimal control over their work and little variety in their daily tasks. Researchers found that the monotonous routine coupled with the demands of the assembly line contributed to an increased risk of musculoskeletal problems.

In an earlier report of the survey information, researchers noted that almost half the workers reported pain in their hands or arms during the previous month, and 25 percent reported an occupational illness or injury in the past year.

"The reported rates of illness and injuries in the poultry industry are likely to be the tip of the iceberg," the authors of that report wrote. "Workers often see the hazards as just part of the job, or they move on to other jobs as they begin to develop symptoms."

Researchers discussed how management practices, such as the way jobs are designed or performed, can influence worker health. Such recommendation include:

  • Worker advocacy groups and community agencies should work with poultry-processing plants to build a culture of safety.
  • Companies should create safety committees that include workers from all divisions of the company, so they can more control over their work environment.
  • Companies should implement a job-rotation program to increase job variety and reduce incidence of injuries.

An estimated 235,100 workers were employed in the poultry processing industry in 2004, with 42 percent of the poultry processing workers being Hispanic and 26 percent being foreign-born from countries across Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

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