Industry safety professionals recently gathered in Destin, Fla., to examine and discuss the safety challenges facing those involved in poultry production and processing. The National Safety Conference for the Poultry Industry is sponsored by the Georgia Tech Research Institute/ATRP and U.S. Poultry & Egg Association (USPOULTRY).
The theme of this year’s conference was one of engaging with and listening to employees. Patricia Adams, Livestock/Poultry Northeast field supervisor for the Georgia Department of Agriculture, presented on safety’s role in an avian influenza outbreak. She related several key points about the potential hazards encountered by those tasked with responding to an avian influenza event, including the possibility of a heat-related illness brought on by the combination of strenuous activity, heat and personal protective equipment required for the response. She also noted the importance of fit-testing respirators and having identifying information visible on the exterior of Tyvek or similar suits. She remarked that it was important to provide employees with a safe, appropriate area to don and doff protective equipment.
The workplace violence panel, facilitated by James Ferrell, corporate manager of risk for Foster Farms, and included Matt Jackson, senior regional safety manager, Animal Nutrition and Pet Food for Simmons Foods, and Dr. David Schaller, director of safety for Darling Ingredients, noted that while workplace violence incidents have been on the decline for the past 30 years, these incidents are still serious events and measures can be taken to prevent them. The panelists noted that several employers have chaplains available to their employees, and this has seemed to provide an intervention opportunity to prevent workplace violence incidents. Partnerships with local law enforcement, particularly in the event of a serious incident, are encouraged, as well as having an anonymous tip line in place to help head off incidents.
James Ferrell also led a discussion on managing heat stress, echoing some of the concerns that Adams shared during her presentation. He related that heat is the number one weather-related cause of death worldwide, and acclimating employees to the heat is a necessary part of working in the heat. Ferrell remarked that the most significant risk time for employees is during the first day and first week of working in the hot environment. He noted that this includes working indoors and outdoors, as there are several environments in the poultry, egg and rendering segments of the industry that are inside but still present a potential heat hazard. Employees being able to recognize the signs of heat illness and being empowered to act appropriately to them was suggested as a key strategy to prevent the worst effects of heat illness.
Antigoni Guevara, senior director of occupation health for Tyson Foods, spoke about the importance of caring for the whole person when an injury occurs, not just the physical injury. The Tyson Chaplaincy Program was discussed as a model for providing support services to employees with any type of issue, from serious issues to just needing to talk. This program was further expanded by the integration of critical incident stress management, which is a specialized intervention intended to address traumatic events and sometimes called “psychological first aid.” First adopted for combat veterans and later applied to first responders, it is now recognized that this approach can help people in a myriad of traumatic experiences. Guevara’s take home message was that the focus should be on the injured employee and their family rather than the injury status, and timely, best-in-class care must be provided with follow-up throughout the recovery process.