If uncompetitive, a poultry processing company will not survive for long. To be competitive—and ensure survival—an essential component of the business structure is a workforce with the right attitude. But how can this be achieved?

Plant managers need to foster an atmosphere where worker dedication and innovation become a given, and there are various aspects of the workplace that can be specifically managed to help ensure this is the case. 

Ergonomic working conditions

For an employee to work comfortably, the work station must be properly planned and designed. Equipment must be adjustable so that each worker can use it comfortably. The distance between workers and their tasks must be properly considered so that they are neither cramped nor have to stretch too much. Ventilation, lighting and noise levels at the workplace all have to be taken into consideration.

A properly planned working environment will allow workers to handle birds comfortably at the various stages along the process, reducing the chances of damage to carcasses and rejected product at quality control checkpoints. 

Ease of access for control panels, for example, is also important. When these are placed within lines of vision, section supervisors can be quickly informed and remedial action be taken should temperatures rise or fall outside of the required levels. The use of audible or visual alarms can also help with this. 

Occupational health and safety

Poor conditions or careless behavior in the workplace can result in accidents, and accidents can result in downtime, compromising chicken quality. For example, downtime when chicken carcasses are in the scalder can result in overscalding; if in the plucker, flesh can be damaged; and at the packing station, temperature and moisture levels can vary. 

Accidents and downtime can all too easily happen. For example, should an operator fail to use safety goggles when hanging birds on the overhead hanger pre-slaughter, there is the possibility that feces may enter the operator’s eyes. Should this occur, the worker will have to leave the station to clean his/her eyes, losing working time. This situation also means there will be empty shackles, which will reduce the productivity of the stunning and plucking operations.

Work environment factors

In some sections of the poultry processing plant, like the scalding, plucking and evisceration operations, noise levels can be high. If workers are not supplied with proper ear protection, and if supervisors do not ensure that protection is used, workers’ concentration wanders. 

This can affect the quality of the processed chicken. For example, failing to fully remove any remaining feathers or to spot damaged carcasses and such birds find their way to the chillers, then it a waste of ice. In addition, the workload of the personnel in the packing area will increase as birds will be reaching them that should have been removed earlier in the process. 

Dangerous workplace substances? 

Chlorine is used in many poultry processing plants to keep bacteria levels within parameters. In addition, it is used for cleaning and disinfection. Chlorine is highly volatile and can be easily inhaled when used if not handled properly. 

It is important to remember that there is no such thing as a dangerous substance, rather the dangerous part is how that substance is used. Consequently, designing and implementing a safe use program is essential so that hygiene levels are maintained while, at the same time, worker health is protected. 

Worker emotional and psychological considerations

Worker satisfaction can result in improved production quality and there are proven approaches that can raise satisfaction levels. 

Fostering an interest in learning and innovation, and assigning a set amount of time to training, keeps the workforce motivated and leads to better attitudes to work. This will be reflected during the handling of the product, resulting in the quality levels and yield expected by the company. 

Another approach is ensuring well-maintained workspaces and auxiliary areas. These should be spacious and in a good state of repair, as well as being clean. When the physical conditions are good, workers feel that the company cares about its workforce and their welfare. 

Unfortunately, in many plants, chickens and the processing equipment take precedence over workers. In such circumstances, a lot of attention may be paid to complying with hygiene requirements, while little thought is given to the employees who handle and process birds, who are ultimately responsible for the finished product and the plant’s yield. 

Workers’ payments and recognition

Companies pay employees to do a good job. In poultry processing plants, however, the dedication of the worker can have a significant impact on yield and reaching targets. All birds will pass through their hands and in front of their eyes, and without a dedicated workforce, the number of rejected chickens will be high. Staff need to be encouraged to think like the final client. 

Additionally, they need to be encouraged to avoid excessive energy, water and ice use to keep costs as low as possible. 

To encourage this attitude, staff need to be offered attractive bonuses on top of their salaries that can raise their monthly income. This approach not only acts as a reward, but helps to ensure that conditions are properly monitored in real time and corrective action taken as soon as necessary. 

The money that employees receive is important in helping them meet the expenses that they all have, yet people are not simply driven my money—recognition is a fundamental complement to salary. 

Stress and burnout

Health conditions can affect staff in a variety of ways on a daily basis, and these can have an enormous impact on the plant’s productivity. 

A stressed worker can make more mistakes during the course of the working day and miss details that affect the quality and yield of processed chickens. Difficulties in concentration mean that they are more easily distracted, thus increasing the risk of accidents. To alleviate this, many plants play background music as this aids concentration. 

It is important to remember that when workers are subjected to continual stress, they may adopt an attitude of indifference as a defense mechanism against the environment in which they find themselves. 

Work life quality

Salary is important, but it is not everything. Continual development, defined roles, flexibility in working hours and recognition of achievement are all important in keeping a workforce dedicated to the job. If there is a good work environment, the quality of processed chickens will improve. 

Those responsible for plant management need to ensure that workers have good working conditions, and when this is achieved, it will make a positive impact on the company’s competitiveness.