Tyson Fresh Meats and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union have completed the 20th year of a workplace ergonomics program that is making meat-processing jobs safer. The program has included workplace improvements that have helped reduce worker injuries and illnesses, such as strains and sprains.

Ergonomics, the science of designing the workplace to fit the worker, had not been extensively used in the meat industry until the company and union reached an agreement after an OSHA citation and settlement in November 1988. Following the settlement, the joint Tyson-UFCW program started in early 1989 at the company's Dakota City, Nebraska, beef complex serving as the pilot plant. Production workers represented by UFCW Local 222 were actively involved. Due to the success of the pilot, the program was quickly expanded to all of the company's beef and pork plants.

Some of the key elements of the program include ongoing ergonomics training for production workers; the involvement of hourly workers as “ergonomic monitors”; worksite analysis and the redesign of work stations and equipment; and a medical management program focused on early detection and treatment of workplace injuries and illnesses.

Tyson and UFCW leaders believe the program has made a difference: the OSHA recordable injury and illness rate at the Dakota City plant is currently running 67% below the rate recorded in 1991. The current rate of injuries and illnesses at Dakota City requiring the involvement of a physician is 73% below 1991 levels.

A video about the ergonomic improvements of the program was created by Tyson and UFCW.

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