The Government Accountability Office (GAO) on Thursday released a report calling for better outreach, collaboration among government agencies and information it said was needed to help protect workers and meat and poultry plants.“The poultry industry is constantly looking at ways to continue to improve on bettering the safety of our workforce. While GAO’s recommendations pertain to OSHA, FSIS and NIOSH, we look forward to reviewing the report and recommendations in detail to determine if they will have a meaningful outcome in helping to continue the progress we’ve made in keeping our employees safety,” said the National Chicken Council, National Turkey Federation and U.S. Poultry & Egg Association.

“That progress has been significant. Over the past 25 years, the poultry industry has reduced its injury and illness rate by 82 percent and continues to decline, according to the Department of Labor. The total recordable poultry processing illness and injury rate for 2016 was 4.2 cases per 100 full-time workers (per year), down from 4.3 in 2015, and lower than the rate of 4.7 for the entire food manufacturing sector.”

Specifically, GAO recommended:

  1. Additional steps to encourage workers to disclose sensitive concerns during OSHA inspections of meat and poultry plants; for example, by considering additional off-site interviews or exploring other options to obtain information anonymously.
  2. OSHA specifically should gather more information to determine the extent to which bathroom access is a problem and how to address any identified issues.
  3. OSHA should update its guidance for employers on how to manage their health units to address management challenges.
  4. OSHA should work with FSIS to assess the implementation of their memorandum of understanding and make any needed changes to ensure improved collaboration.
  5. The FSIS Administrator should work with OSHA to evaluate the implementation of the MOU and make any needed changes to ensure improved collaboration.
  6. FSIS should develop a process to regularly share the worker safety information it collects during its review of new chemicals with FSIS inspectors, plant management, OSHA, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
  7. NIOSH should consider including in the agency’s research agenda a proposal for examining the extent of peracetic acid’s use in combination with other chemicals in meat and poultry plants, and any safety and health hazards these combinations may pose to workers.

“Although individual policies vary by locations, all employees are permitted restroom breaks,” NCC, NTF and USPOULTRY continued.  “Most facilities employ support staff to interchange with line employees who request a bathroom break. In all occasions, medical-related situations are taken into account and accommodations made. Employers are prohibited by federal law from retaliating against employees regarding worker safety concerns.

“While the past 25 years has seen a dramatic decrease in the numbers and rates of injury and illnesses occurring in the industry, the poultry industry will continue to seek new and innovative ways to protect our workforce.”