Originally published in Meat & Poultry Ontario's BlockTalk magazine, September 2023.
From farm to fork, the journey of meat and poultry products involves many hands, processes, and potential hazards. Between 2020 and 2022, the meat and poultry manufacturing sector experienced more than 2000 lost-time injuries, which means the injury was serious enough that the employee needed time away from work. We recently spoke with David Smith, WSPS Partnerships Account Manager for the manufacturing sector, about the main factors that contribute to injuries in the meat and poultry sector and tips to help you and your employees work safely when handling food.
What types of injuries are happening in the meat and poultry industry?
Many of the lost-time injuries experienced in this sector were related to contact with equipment or hand tools causing lacerations. “When it comes to handling meat, cold temperatures can impact hand dexterity,” says David. “When your hands are cold, blood flow becomes restricted, which can impede your ability to handle tools.” Gloves that fit properly will also help reduce these types of injuries.
According to David, another common factor that likely contributes to lost-time injuries is stationary work surfaces. “Stationary work surfaces or tables can lead to musculoskeletal disorders or MSDs,” says David. “If a taller person is working next to a shorter person at the same table, one or both of them may be in an awkward position because of their difference in height, arm length, etc. in relation to the height of the table,” he says. Given how common this scenario is, it’s not surprising that 26% of the lost-time injuries between 2020 and 2022 in this sector were from overexertion and repetitive motion related to lifting, bending, and reaching. “One way to reduce the risk of MSDs in these situations is job rotation,” says David. “Organize the work so that employees have an opportunity to move around and break up stationary tasks.”
Proper PPE, the right tools, and a clean shop make the difference
When you are cutting meat, hand protection is critical. Obviously, you need to protect yourself and your workers against cuts and punctures, but you also need protection against biological hazards. David recommends wearing a chainmail glove on your holding hand and a cut-resistant glove on your cutting hand. Kevlar is a good example of a common cut-resistant material. “For sanitary purposes, wear a nitrile glove over the chainmail and cut-resistant gloves to protect against bacteria and other biological hazards,” says David. “If you can’t find a nitrile glove large enough to fit over the other gloves, then wear one underneath. Either way, always ensure gloves fit properly and protect your wrists and lower arms as well as your hands.”
In addition to hand protection, an apron is an important piece of personal protective equipment (PPE). It can do a lot more than protect your clothes from getting dirty. A durable apron made of leather or Kevlar can protect your body from a cut or puncture. “Safety glasses are also a good idea,” says David. When there is a possibility of blood or bone flying through the air, eye protection becomes necessary. Keeping the shop floor free of slip and trip hazards also helps to prevent injuries. “Safety shoes with good grips help prevent slips, trips, and falls,” reminds David, “And they protect your feet if sharp items fall.”
Training, observation, and safe work procedures protect everyone
Training is one of the most effective steps you can take to ensure everyone’s safety. Before operating equipment or using a new tool, read the operator’s manual and follow manufacturer’s instructions. “The information in the operator’s manual is a good start for developing safe work procedures,” says David. Once you have a procedure, train your employees and then observe them doing the work. “Look for coaching opportunities. If you see something being done incorrectly, provide corrective instruction,” he says.
Your training and procedures should include information not only on how to use tools and equipment but also on what to wear at work. Make sure your employees are clear about the PPE they are expected to wear and how to inspect it for defects. Loose clothing should not be permitted. If it gets caught in a slicer or grinder, the outcome could be dire. Hair nets and beard nets keep stray strands of hair in place, which is important for cleanliness, but also for operator safety.
When it comes to establishing safe food handling practices, lead by example. When you wear proper PPE, use the right tools, and follow safe work procedures, others will know that health and safety is a priority in your workplace. Working together to reduce injuries, retain employees, and grow your business benefits everyone.
The information in this article is accurate as of its publication date.