Worker Safety in the Meat Packing Plant

May 10, 2017

Many years ago the industry was among the most dangerous, but over time, particularly in the last 25 years, that has changed dramatically. Yet, probably due to the reading of books such as The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, consumers remain very concerned about the safety of the workers in the meat packing plants. At one time it was very dangerous to work in the meat packing industry and the plant conditions were similar to those described in The Jungle. However, consumers would be happy to know that many drastic changes have taken place since those times in 1906.

Since organizations like the USDA and OSHA have gotten involved the safety of the workers and the conditions in the plants have clearly changed and there are impressive figures to back this up.  In 2013, there were 5.7 cases of occupational injuries and illnesses per 100 workers in the meat and poultry sector, compared to 6.3 in 2012 – a reduction of 9.5%. A decade ago that number was 14.7 per 100 workers; in 1993 the injury rate was 27.6.1

In comparison work-related fatalities in the meat industry occur at a lower rate than those for the private industry category as a whole.2

Many of the worker safety improvements are the result of added industry attention to the issue over the last 25 years.  During that period, the industry adopted Voluntary Ergonomic Guidelines that were created in partnership with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union and these widely used guidelines have greatly reduced the incidence of musculoskeletal disorders. 3 Companies also share best practices in worker safety to try to improve it industry wide.

The work done on the line in packing facilities is very repetitive. Because of the typical worker having to do the same task over and over guidelines have been put in place to insure the worker isn’t causing stress to their body. The equipment is specifically designed for the comfort of the worker. Workers are taught specific ways to do their task on the line to reduce stress on their wrist, hands, legs, backs etc.

Some of the equipment used throughout the plant includes: steal toe shoes, no cut aprons, knives designed with safety features, hearing protection, cut resistant gloves, and hard hats.

There are several reasons for such changes in the safety in the meats industry. Plants obviously gain economic incentives when there aren’t injured workers in their facility.

It is safer to work in meat and poultry packing and processing than the industries that produce products to cook meat (kitchen utensil, pot and pan manufacturing). It is also more dangerous to work in foundries, ship building, and the transportation and warehousing sectors, to name a few.

  

 

  1. Employer-Reported Workplace Injury and Illness Summary | www.bls.gov
  2. Fatal occupational injuries by industry and event or exposure, all United States, 2014
  3. Ergonomics Program Management Guidelines For Meatpacking Plants | www.osha.gov

 

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