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Safety Management Insights

What Safety Managers Should Know About Injuries in Food Processing

Posted by Don Brown on Jun 11, 2014 8:30:00 AM

Poultry_processingWholesale food producers and distributors place a great deal of emphasis on safe handling practices to protect consumers, but there are inherent hazards to workers, too.

These hazards could involve a widespread exposure to chemicals used in processing, such as the threat of lung diseases caused by flavorings in microwave popcorn, or risks of traumatic or repetitive injuries as employees work fast-paced production lines.


In the poultry processing industry, lacerations account for about 10 percent of all injuriesaccording to OSHA. These injuries are also common among workers in other processing or packaging facilities where knives, box-cutters and similarly sharp tools are used.

Lacerations occur most often when employees are not wearing proper personal protective equipment (PPE) or are not using well-maintained tools to process food. Using gloves that are not cut-resistant or using dull knives or scissors for cutting are two common causes.

In addition to checking for equipment that meets all safety standards, employers should ensure employees have adequate working space.

Hearing Loss

Noise-related hearing loss is one of the most prevalent yet preventable occupational hazards. About 30 million Americans are exposed to hazardous noise on the job each year, and nearly 125,000 workers have suffered significant, permanent hearing loss in the past decade, according to data from OSHA and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In many cases, these injuries can be prevented by requiring hearing protection and taking steps to reduce noise with better engineering on the job site. This could include using quieter tools, maintaining equipment more effectively and  isolating the source of noise. Regular safety audits can identify these hazards.

Injuries Related to Repetitive Motions

A March 2014 reportby the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found 42 percent of employees at a South Carolina poultry processing plant had developed carpal tunnel syndrome as a result of the repetitive motions involved in the job. Similar studies of meat and fish processing plants showed nearly three-fourths of employees had experienced these injuries.

Despite nearly 20 years of study in the processing industry, carpal tunnel and musculoskeletal disorders continue to be a frequent occurrence. Job rotation can reduce this risk. The study also recommends early recognition, reporting and intervention to limit the severity of these injuries and minimize the likelihood of permanent damage. Using a safety management system that includes incident reporting and investigation can help keep track of these injuries.

Eye and Respiratory Irritation

Workers at poultry slaughter and processing facilities commonly report stinging or burning eyes, nose and throat, sneezing or coughing, shortness of breath and asthma-like symptoms.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommends focusing on factors believed to contribute to these problems, such as the use of chlorine and other chemicals, often made worse by poor ventilation systems. Although there are various precautions outlined depending on the chemical, employers should minimize exposure as much as possible and provide adequate ventilation to prevent these problems.

Better injury reporting and recordkeeping are also essential to any injury prevention program. In addition to taking steps to prevent these common food industry injuries, safety managers should monitor occurrence rates to identify trends that may be specific to their line of work.

BasicSafe’s safety management software includes automated incident reporting.and tracking, which can lead to more effective monitoring. Incident reports can be tied to other actions, such as generating an email to a supervisor who needs to replace a piece of hazardous equipment or order additional PPE.

To learn more about how better incident investigation and reporting can be part of your site’s injury prevention plan, download How to Pass Your OSHA Audit With Flying Colors.

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