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Meat, poultry industry achieves record-low injury, illness rates

Industry achieves 20-year injury rate reduction from 20.1 to 4.3 cases per 100 full-time workers per year.

U.S. meat and poultry packers and processors continued to make significant progress in workplace safety, reaching an all-time low rate of worker injuries and illnesses in 2018, according to a newly released Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) annual report.

“The data continues to prove the meat and poultry industry is committed to the highest standards of well-being of its employees,” North American Meat Institute (NAMI) president and chief executive officer Julie Anna Potts said. “The success of our industry depends on a safe and healthy work environment for the 800,000 people who produce meat and poultry.”

Meat industry incident rates improved from both 2017 and 2016 levels, reaching a new all-time industry low of 4.3 cases per 100 full-time workers annually. The most serious injuries -- those included in the “days away, restricted or job transfer" (DART) rate -- also dropped from 4.6 in 2017 to 3.6 in 2018, which was the lowest rates ever recorded.

In 2008, just 10 years ago, the industry incident rate was 10.3, while in 1998, the incidence rate was 20.1. A 20-year injury rate reduction by decade from 20.1 to 10.3 to 4.3 illustrates the sustained industry trend of workplace safety improvement, NAMI noted.

The Joint Industry Safety & Health Council, which consists of members from the U.S. Poultry & Egg Assn., the National Chicken Council and the National Turkey Federation, said, “Employee safety has been and will always be a priority for the poultry industry. The industry continues to focus its efforts on the prevention of workplace injuries and illnesses, especially musculoskeletal disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome, by acknowledging the benefit of implementing ergonomics and medical intervention principles while continually implementing new technology and automation in the workplace. Though the past two decades have shown a notable decrease in the numbers and rates of injury and illnesses, the poultry industry is steadfast in pursuing new and inventive ways to protect our workforce.”

The council reported that the total recordable poultry processing illness and injury rate for 2018 was 3.5 cases per 100 full-time workers (per year), down from 3.8 in 2017. The poultry industry came in below the rate of 5.1 for similar agriculture industries in terms of injuries per 100 full-time workers and was lower than the rate of 4.2 for the entire food manufacturing sector, while all of manufacturing was 3.4, the council said in its announcement.

The 2018 rate of 3.5 for poultry processing represents an 84% decrease from 1994 (the oldest data available on the BLS website), when the recorded rate was 22.7, the council said.

In the early 1990s, the Meat Institute declared worker safety a non-competitive issue, which encouraged member companies to collaborate to find solutions that prioritized and enhanced worker safety. The meat industry, together with Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) and the United Food & Commercial Workers union, also developed "Voluntary Ergonomic Guidelines for the Meat Packing Industry" — guidelines that OSHA called a “model” for other industries. In 2019, worker safety was identified as a key pillar in NAMI’s sustainability efforts, and the industry will develop additional metrics and targets for continuous improvement over the next decade.

OSHA closely and regularly monitors the recordkeeping of employers to ensure that injuries are reported. Significant lapses in recordkeeping would result in OSHA issuing citations and levying fines. OSHA has not had a significant complaint against a meatpacker for decades. Workers injured on the job receive compensation, and their rights as workers are guaranteed by federal law.

NAMI convenes an annual conference on worker safety and presents awards to meat and poultry plants that have achieved high levels of workplace safety performance. The 2020 Worker Safety Conference for the Meat & Poultry Industry will take place Jan. 28-29, 2020, in conjunction with the International Production & Processing Expo in Atlanta, Ga. The Worker Safety Recognition Awards will be presented during NAMI’s Annual Awards Ceremony & Luncheon Jan. 28 in Atlanta.

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