The National Chicken Council, National Turkey Federation and U.S. Poultry & Egg Association consider employees the most important asset in the industry and operate under the principle that worker safety is of paramount importance. As such, the organizations fully cooperated with GAO for more than a year, through stakeholder interviews and processing plant visits, as GAO worked on its recently released Workplace Safety and Health Report to Congressional Requesters.
“We are pleased to see the report emphasizes the fact that injuries and illnesses have decreased dramatically in the poultry processing industry over the past several years,” said a spokesperson for the groups. "U.S. poultry processors are proud of the advancements in worker safety and the ongoing efforts for continued improvement."
The incidence of occupational injuries and illnesses within the poultry sector's slaughter and processing workforce has fallen by 81 percent in the last 20 years and continues to decline according to the 2014 Injury and Illness Report released by the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In fact, poultry processing's injury and illness rate of 4.3 is on par with all manufacturing jobs (4.0) and is decreasing at a much faster rate. When comparing apples to apples, poultry processing's rate is much lower than all food manufacturing in general.
Perhaps more than any other industry, the poultry industry has focused its energies on the prevention of workplace injuries and illnesses, especially musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) like carpal tunnel syndrome, by recognizing the value of implementing ergonomics and medical intervention principles, and working with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to develop guidelines that further help protect our workforce. MSDs continue to be reported as a workplace illness under Column (M) (6) of the OSHA 300 log.
In addition to OSHA recording, plant medical clinics/first aid stations maintain records of each visit. Each plant has a safety manager on site whose role includes accident investigation and root cause analysis for the explicit purpose of reducing future re-occurrences.
Poultry processing was included in a recent OSHA National Emphasis Program on record keeping, and extensive violations of under-reporting were not identified.
While the past 20 years have seen a dramatic decrease in the numbers and rates of injury and illnesses, companies in the poultry industry are committed to seeking out innovative, new ways to protect its workforce – including data collection and record keeping – and working with the Department of Labor, Senator Murray and other stakeholders to build on the positive trend as outlined in the report.