Survey of Poultry Workers Shows High Rate of Injuries, Suggests
- Survey of Poultry Workers Shows High Rate of Injuries, Suggests
Need for Uniform Enforcement of Safety Regulations
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - A survey of poultry workers in western
North Carolina reveals high rates of injuries, as well as significant
differences among poultry companies in numbers of injuries and how
workers view company emphasis on safety.
The survey was conducted by researchers at Wake Forest University
School of Medicine in collaboration with Centro Latino of
Caldwell County, Inc.
"We found high rates of musculoskeletal injuries," said Sara A.
Quandt, Ph.D., professor of epidemiology at the School of Medicine,
which is part of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical
Center. "Almost half of workers reported pain in their hands or arms
during the previous month and one in five of those workers was unable
to work for at least a day in the previous year because of the pain."
The survey was based on a representative sample of Latino workers in
six counties in western North Carolina: Alexander, Burke, Caldwell,
Surry, Wilkes and Yadkin. The results, not yet published in a
peer-reviewed journal, were distributed to community groups in a
Poultry processing is the largest and fastest growing sector of the
meat products industry, according to the authors. In 2002, North
Carolina and four other states accounted for 70 percent of all
broiler production in the United States. Many of the workers are
immigrants from Mexico and Guatemala, according to the authors.
Face-to-face interviews with 200 poultry workers found that 119
workers (60 percent) reported having one or more of these
occupational injuries or illnesses in the past month: respiratory,
skin, leg/foot, neck/back or arm/hand. Musculoskeletal problems were
the most commonly reported work-related injuries. Thirty-six percent
of workers surveyed had neck or back pain, and one in three of those
workers missed work in the past 12 months because of the pain.
The injuries and illnesses varied by company, but on average
exceeded rates that plants reported to the Occupational Safety and
Health Administration. In 2003, a reported 8.1 of every 100 full-time
poultry workers nationwide were injured or made ill. North Carolina
reported a 9.4 percent injury and illness rate.
"The reported rates of illness and injuries in the poultry industry
are likely to be the tip of the iceberg," write the authors.
"Workers often see the hazards as just part of the job, or they move
on to other jobs as they begin to develop symptoms."
The researchers also found that the prevalence of injuries and
illnesses varied among companies. For example, 70 percent of workers
at one company said they had an illness or injury during the previous
year, compared to less than 30 percent at a second company and less
than 10 percent at a third company.
"The differences among the companies are important because, although
poultry processing is known to be dangerous work, our findings
indicate that companies can take steps to improve safety - which can
translate into fewer injuries for their workers," said Quandt.
The researchers also found that workers at the company with the
fewest reported injuries perceived a greater emphasis on workplace
safety compared to workers at the other two companies.
The researchers said additional research is needed, including
physical exams to confirm self-reported levels of injuries and
studies to investigate reasons for reported differences among
companies in worker-reported health and safety climate.
The reports' other recommendations include equal enforcement of
existing occupational safety regulations across all poultry
processing employers, requiring producers to implement an ergonomics
program such as described in OHSA's 2004 guidelines. The report also
recommends that advocacy groups and community agencies should work
with poultry processing plants to improve workers' safety and health.
"These policy changes and research will help to identify ways to
reduce the high rates of occupational illnesses and injuries in
this vulnerable population," the authors wrote.
The survey collected data on occupational and psychological health,
safety training and the safety climate inside the plants. It was
funded by a grant from the National Institute for Occupational Safety
and Health. In addition to Quandt, researchers were Joseph Grzywacz,
Ph.D., Michael Coates, M.D., M.S., Antonio Marin, M.A., and Thomas
Arcury, Ph.D., all with Wake Forest Baptist; and Bless Burke, M.A.,
and Lourdes Carrillo, B.S., with Centro Latino.
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