A healthy worker is a happy worker, and nothing produces a better product than an employee who is happy to be producing it. In 2013, the American Meat Institution released a report on how the U.S. meat industry, together with OSHA and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, created the Voluntary Ergonomic Guidelines for the meat packing industry. The guidelines had dramatic results — between 1992 and 2012, the rate of injury and illness cases per 100 full-time workers decreased from 29.5 to 6.3.
The guidelines were specifically tailored to the meat industry, but the following key points on how to increase worker comfort and safety can be applied to any area of food manufacturing:
• Make sure that work areas, methods, and tools fit the person who will be controlling them. It’s these repetitive and continuous motions that can result in musculoskeletal disorders, and making sure that a workspace is the right dimensions and within a worker’s physical capability will drastically reduce the potential for these disorders to develop.
• Choose the equipment you buy for personal protection with ergonomics in mind. Protection equipment should never increase the amount of force or pressure placed on an employee’s body. Things like gloves should come in multiple sizes, and equipment should conform to a worker’s physical necessities.
• Allow workers a variety of jobs to do throughout their workday. Changing up the repetitive motions a person must make throughout the day will help minimize muscle fatigue and stress, and can be achieved through job rotation and sharing of responsibilities.
• Ensure that all safety procedures and guidelines are understood and practiced by all levels of your staff. This includes techniques for getting a job done (lifting, cutting, etc.), employee break times, and regular auditing of how your facility is running.
• When auditing, pay special attention to employee feedback on work space, tools and methods, and respond to that feedback with whatever upkeep and modification may be necessary in a timely fashion.