High Incidence of Disorders, Injuries Found in Poultry Plant Workers

US - The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has issued the final report from its Health Hazard Evaluation at a South Carolina poultry processing plant. The plant had requested the Health Hazard Evaluation of musculoskeletal disorders and traumatic injuries in workers at the plant.
calendar icon 14 April 2014
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The final report reflects baseline information reported by NIOSH in a September 2013 interim report, and incorporates further findings from follow-up data collection and analysis.

The report found that 42 per cent of workers in the study had evidence of carpal tunnel syndrome, and 41 per cent of workers in the study worked in jobs involving hand activity and force above recommended limits for minimising risk of carpel tunnel syndrome.

Of the 131 employees who participated in both the baseline and follow-up evaluations, at follow up 32 per cent were performing job tasks that were above the recommended limits for hand activity and force.

The most common reported musculoskeletal symptom involved the hand or wrist, with 39 per cent of participants reporting these symptoms at both baseline and follow-up evaluations. Also, 57 per cent of these participants reported at least one musculoskeletal symptom (not including hand or wrist symptoms) at both baseline and follow-up evaluations.

NIOSH noted that the plant's rate of all recorded injuries and illnesses was 1.3 times the national rates for the poultry processing industry for 2009–2012 (US Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Between NIOSH's baseline and follow-up visits, the plant combined two evisceration lines, each operating at 90 birds per minute, into one line operating at 175 birds per minute. In making this change, the number of birds processed per minute by each worker did not change.

The results of this NIOSH evaluation may not reflect the increased prevalence of adverse health effects that might be experienced by workers in other plants that use different methods of increasing line speed, the report noted. For example, increasing the number of birds processed per worker may result in an even higher prevalence of carpal tunnel syndrome than seen in this NIOSH evaluation.

The final report makes recommendations to improve work conditions and minimise exposures to factors that increase the risk for musculoskeletal disorders and traumatic injuries.

The recommendations address changes for reducing the amount of hand activity and force, changing work schedule and rotation patterns and policies, and improving work practices related to tool and equipment use.

These recommendations are aimed at what is an alarming prevalence of carpal tunnel syndrome in poultry processing workers noted in this evaluation.

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