Viewpoint: OSHA’s Special Emphasis Program for Poultry Processing
Last fall, OSHA announced a comprehensive special emphasis program focusing on poultry processing plants in OSHA regions covering all states from the Carolinas through Texas, beginning the inspection and enforcement phase of the emphasis program in late January.
In its guidance document, OSHA justifies the special emphasis program by pointing out that the rate of serious injuries for poultry processing workers is almost double the rate for workers in private industry. This is hardly an apples-to-apples comparison, as private industry also includes banking, insurance, and the retail and service industries, hardly jobs with significant risk of serious injury. A comparison of poultry to All Manufacturing seems more suitable and there we compare favorably.
We understand OSHA’s role in helping keep workers safe, and certainly, it has the authority to determine if an industry deserves special attention. OSHA inspections are nothing new to the industry as there have been over 635 inspections in poultry processing plants in the past five years, so the agency is welcome to come in and evaluate our programs.
The industry and OSHA prepared for the emphasis program by holding an informational meeting hosted by the Georgia Tech Research Institute in early December 2015. Senior representatives from OSHA’s Regions 4 and 6 described the program and answered questions from approximately 40 safety directors from the industry.
OSHA is proposing to evaluate all aspects of workplace safety in poultry plants with special emphasis on ergonomics, recordkeeping, and process safety management in addition to the basic safety programs such as lock out and machine guarding. These special emphasis program inspections will be conducted by a team that may include a compliance safety and health officer, an ergonomist, an industrial hygienist, a process safety management expert, and a medical officer. Early indications are that these inspections will last for well over 30 days, highlighting the tremendous amount of resources OSHA has devoted to this program.
We are currently awaiting the results of the first round of special emphasis inspections and believe the industry is well prepared. Our industry safety professionals work hard every day evaluating and addressing hazards in the workplace, training employees, and maintaining the extensive paperwork required to document policies and programs. Their efforts are obvious and are reflected by OSHA recordable injury and illness rates, which have declined in poultry processing facilities by 81 percent in the last 20 years. Where once poultry injury rates were almost double the entire Manufacturing Sector, we are now within a few tenths of a percentage point.
The poultry industry has much to be proud of with respect to workplace safety as we have made great progress in reducing workplace injuries. Does this mean that we are satisfied with our safety programs? No, of course not. We know that every injury impacts someone’s life, someone’s family. We also know that there is always room for further improvement, and we’re working hard every day.