Volume 15 | Number 3 | Fall 2003

Safety Issue


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Georgia Tech Receives Susan Harwood Grant for Ergonomics Training in Poultry Processing

The poultry processing industry presents an optimal environment to reduce workplace musculoskeletal disorders. Highly repetitive hand and wrist motions, often as high as 20,000 repetitions per workday, are a general indication of the dilemma found in the industry.

Working in conjunction with the National Chicken Council, the National Turkey Federation, and the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association, Georgia Tech was recently awarded a Susan Harwood Grant by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to develop a comprehensive training program pertaining to the draft ergonomics guidelines for the poultry processing industry, which were released this past June.

Since the 1980s, workplace musculoskeletal disorders have been recognized as a major contributor to inflated lost workday injury and illness rates in the poultry processing industry. Highly repetitive hand and wrist motions, often as high as 20,000 repetitions per workday, are a general indication of the dilemma found in the industry.

The Harwood grant, totaling $103,854, will be used to develop new training materials related to the ergonomics guidelines and the assessment of hazard recognition, evaluation, and control; conduct train-the-trainer courses in three different regions of the country; and conduct limited employee training sessions at several plant locations.

Key elements that will be addressed in the train-the-trainer course include:
• Introduction to ergonomics
• Physiological elements of the backs and upper extremities
• Identification of workplace musculoskeletal disorders related to work
• Ergonomics risk factors in the poultry industry
• Anthropometry and human factors concerns
• Biomechanical and physiological aspects
• Workstation and tool design issues in the poultry industry
• Hazard analysis techniques for upper extremities with hands-on workshops based on real-world poultry activities
• Lifting analysis workshops with poultry-specific examples
• Thermal and vibration concerns
• Effective ergonomics solutions in the poultry industry
• Ergonomics success stories
• Elements of successful ergonomics programs
• Evaluation of ergonomics programs

Approximately 90 individuals from all areas of the poultry processing industry will be targeted to participate in three 3-day train-the-trainer courses. These individuals will receive trainer manuals and presentations on CD-ROMs. Tentative locations for the train-the-trainer courses are Arkansas, Georgia, and Maryland.

The employee-based training will consist of a half-day training course designed for 50 employees and will be offered at five plant sites in Alabama and Georgia. Employee-based training materials will be designed for individuals fluent in both English and Spanish languages in recognition of the large percentage of Hispanic workers in the poultry industry.

“The Safety, Health and Environmental Technology Division of Georgia Tech has a long history of offering ergonomics training and working with the poultry industry. We view this grant as an opportunity to reinforce the progress already being made in this area,” says Bryan Black, research engineer and project director.

A coordinating committee was recently assembled by the National Chicken Council and the National Turkey Federation to advise the Georgia Tech team on course content needs.

“We are pleased that Georgia Tech received the Harwood grant, and we look forward to working with Tech on a training program that will help our industry,” says Stephen Pretanik, director of science and technology for the National Chicken Council.

“This is a wonderful opportunity that will enable the poultry industry to make even greater strides in ensuring the ergonomic safety of its employees. We are excited and look forward to working with Georgia Tech and the industry in this effort,” adds Brie Wilson, government affairs manager for the National Turkey Federation.

In addition, the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association has committed $20,000 in matching funds to help support the development of video course materials and their delivery on the Web.

Key elements that will be addressed in the employee-based training session include:
• Introduction to ergonomics
• Identification of workplace musculoskeletal disorders related to work
• Ergonomics risk factors in the poultry industry
• Workstation and tool design issues in the poultry industry
• Effective ergonomics solutions in the poultry industry

“We consider this an investment in our industry’s future and look forward to working with Georgia Tech on this very worthwhile endeavor,” says Don Dalton, president of the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association.

This year OSHA awarded more than $11.2 million in grants to 67 nonprofit organizations for safety and health training and educational programs. These grants support classroom quality training programs that can be published and used by other organizations; training for OSHA’s industry-specific ergonomics guidelines; and training for targeted safety and health hazards, including workplace violence and small-business safety and health management systems. The training grants are named in honor of the late Susan Harwood, a former director of the Office of Risk Assessment in OSHA’s Health Standards Directorate, who died in 1996. During her 17-year tenure with the agency, Harwood helped develop OSHA standards to protect workers exposed to bloodborne pathogens, cotton dust, benzene, formaldehyde, asbestos, and lead in construction.

The draft ergonomics guidelines for the poultry processing industry were developed by OSHA to provide practical solutions for reducing ergonomic-related injuries in the industry. According to OSHA, the guidelines are voluntary and are based on a review of existing practices and programs, as well as available scientific information. They do not create any new duties, and they will not be used for enforcement purposes. The guidelines are available online at www.osha.gov/ergonomics (select “Guidelines”). The draft guidelines are expected to be finalized in March 2004.