Poultry Plant Workers Have High Risk of Repetitive Stress Injuries

Poultry Plant Workers Have High Risk of Repetitive Stress Injuries

Recent evaluations of poultry processing plants have shown alarming rates of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome among workers in these meat processing industries.


In an an evaluation of a South Carolina processing plant, NIOSH researchers found an alarming rate of 42% of workers suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome, a disease that occurs when a major hand nerve is squeezed or strained. This disease results in tingling, pain, numbness and often impaired usage of hands, wrists and fingers. The researchers also found 57% of workers some sort of musculoskeletal injury to the hand or wrist.


This comes before more recent evaluations that put meat processing industries at #6 in terms of workplace danger and injury. In addition, the poultry and meat processing industries have almost double the national rate of workplace injuries. The most common injuries are cuts, scrapes, punctures, trips, falls, repetitive motion wear and tear on joints and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.


These high rates of injury also set the stage for the dramatic denial of the National Chicken Council’s request to the USDA to eliminate line speeds, effectively allowing plants to increase the impact on workers through stricter line speeds, increasing pressure for workers to keep up with the line and increased wear and tear on workers’ health. The USDA denied this request as it endangers workers even more than the staggering stats in poultry processing plants, but the victory is short lived. A representative from the National Chicken Council spoke of disappointment over the decision, but the hope of future attempts to eliminate these mandated speeds.


At the end of the evaluation, the plant inspected by NIOSH workers was given the data collected. The researchers found the motions and speed at which the birds are processed push the limits of human endurance and further the boundaries on what is too far for a production line. The plant requested this evaluation in an attempt to get permission for increasing their line speeds. The NIOSH made several suggestions for worker safety including streamlining hand activity to meet ACGIH threshold limits, rotate jobs and breaks to allow workers to recover and following a strict knife changeout policy that will reduce the number of dull blades on the line.

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