Eleven representatives of the Joint Poultry Industry Safety & Health Council met with officials from the Occupational Safety & Health Administration in Washington, D.C., recently to reestablish a dialogue with OSHA and seek opportunities to collaborate in the development of future standards and industry-specific programs. The group of poultry industry safety professionals discussed the industry's recent history of safety and health initiatives, including the industry's ergonomics, medical and training approach to reducing cumulative trauma disorders, advancements in processing equipment technology, current on-going research, and employee outreach activities.

Poultry industry has made many safety, health improvements

The poultry industry has made great strides in addressing safety and health issues since 1970 when the original Occupational Safety & Health Act was passed and OSHA was created. Through the poultry industry safety community's outstanding efforts, significant advancements have been made in processing technology, in understanding human factors, and in implementing best management practices throughout the industry. Many difficult jobs have been eliminated through automation and the whole concept of ergonomics - fitting the workplace to the worker rather than requiring the worker to adapt to the workplace - has been and continues to be implemented for each and every job. Best practices continue to evolve, improving both productivity and workplace safety. These advancements have been driven in part by the increased awareness of safety resulting with the passage of the Occupational Safety & Health Act but are mostly due to recognition by industry of the intrinsic value of the individual employee, of the moral obligation to help keep them safe, and of the economic advantages that come from a safe workplace.

Yet OSHA seems convinced that only the heavy hand of enforcement drives employers to do the right thing. As OSHA Assistant Secretary of Labor Dr. David Michaels told the American Society of Safety Engineers, "We want you to hear from us that OSHA is back, and we are a strong regulatory agency first and foremost." As evidence of this regulatory viewpoint, OSHA's recently released Spring 2013 Regulatory Agenda listed 26 regulations and rules in the hopper, ranging from pre-rule stage to final rule implementation.

There is an apparent disconnect between what our industry is accomplishing and what OSHA sees with respect to safety and health. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, since 1994 the poultry industry's safety and health initiatives have resulted in a 74 percent reduction in recordable injuries in poultry processing plants. These initiatives include the industry's ergonomics, medical and training approach to reducing cumulative trauma disorders, advancements in processing equipment technology, current on-going research and employee outreach activities.

Yes, much progress has been made, and yes, there is more work to be done. The industry will continue to collaborate to seek additional improvements in workplace safety and is committed to continuing a dialogue with OSHA and other stakeholders.