Meat and poultry workers are injured in a variety of ways, and their injury rates, though declining, remain among some of the highest of any industry. They work in hazardous conditions involving loud noise, sharp tools and dangerous machinery. Many workers must stand for long periods of time wielding knives and hooks to slaughter or process meat on a production line that moves very quickly. Some of the most common injuries reported are cuts, strains, cumulative trauma, and injuries sustained from falls, but more serious injuries, such as fractures and amputation, also occur. Without the proper safeguards, protein-plant employees would be in a heap of danger. These products and procedures help workers them safe and sound while assisting them in their daily work.

Tools of the trade

Whizard® Series II Trimmers from Bettcher Industries Inc.are the latest generation of tools from the Vermilion, Ohio-based developer and manufacturer of innovative precision cutting tools. “The really great thing about the Whizard Trimmer is its fully adjustable design,” says Wayne Daggett, Bettcher’s marketing manager.

“This enables us to truly fit the tool to the worker with different-sized handles, vibration-absorbing grips, left- or right-hand operation, and adjustable thumb support.”

There is also a post-handle ergonomic design for those applications that require constant use, such as robbing lean from pork bellies, says Daggett. “We also make a hand strap (MicroBreak Strap) for the trimmer that allows operators to relax their hand between cycles without having to put down the trimmer, which is good for applications where the trimmer, is used for long periods of time,” he says. “An additional safety feature is a Quick Disconnect that instantly stops the blade when the hand is opened.”

The powered blade of the trimmer is great at reducing the effort required to defat those “Monday morning hams” that have been in the refrigerator all weekend, says Daggett. “Ergonomic features continue on through to handle sizes as well. We also offer semi-soft handles for comfort and grip,” he says.

Additionally, says Daggett, sharpening that is easy to perform improves operator safety.

“Bettcher offers on-line steeling devices for sharpening,” he says. “We even have a machine that will automatically sharpen the blade.”

Bettcher’s AirShirz (pneumatically powered scissors) are like power steering for scissors, taking the stress out of cutting. Plus, they open automatically whenever the fingers are relaxed, says Daggett, which reduces hand stress since the operator only has to close the scissors, not open them. “Blade tips are fully controlled by the operator’s fingers,” he says.

Protective gear

Knife cuts and punctures are always a major concern in the meat-processing industry, says Loren Rivkin, vice president of marketing and metal mesh product manager for Deerfield, Ill.-based Niroflex USA. “Workers are working so fast and knifes are very sharp and are sharpened to a very fine point,” he says. “Protecting the workers from knife injuries is of paramount concern. Other concerns include trying to reduce the weight of protective clothing on the worker.”

Providing the ultimate in cut protection, stainless-steel gloves from Niroflex, are ideal for meat and poultry food-processing applications.

“Most manufacturers’ mesh gloves are assembled with joining rings simply attaching adjacent parts,” says Rivkin. “As a result, the gaps at glove seams are as large as 6.3 millimeters through which a knife point could easily protrude.

“Niroflex2000 gloves are assembled by weaving the joining ring around (over and under) at least four adjacent rings, in exactly the same way as the basic mesh material is interlocked. As a result, the seams on Niroflex2000 gloves are as strong, safe and secure as any other part of the glove and the maximum gap is less than 3.1 millimeters.”

Rivkin says Niroflex is constantly refining its welding technology to ensure that it has the strongest welded rings possible. “Currently there is no U.S. standard for metal mesh gloves, so we follow the European standard EN1082,” he says. “Our welded rings test out at no less than two times the minimum required by EN1082.”

With regard to helping with the weight of the protective clothing, Niroflex offers all metal mesh clothing in both stainless steel and titanium. Titanium is roughly half the weight of a stainless steel, says Rivkin.

In addition to its Niroflex2000 product line, the company offers an ergonomic fitting glove called the Ergoflex2000. The patented curved-finger design of the Ergoflex2000, says Rivkin, fits the natural shape of the wearer’s hand, and has been shown to reduce incidents of finger-locking.

Burbank, Calif.-based ARAMARK Uniform Services offers its clients in the food-processing industry, a vast array of Flame Resistant (FR) solutions — from snap-button shirts and pants, to voltage-rated gloves, FR hair nets and beard nets and arc-flash face shields — even arc-flash ear plugs. “Probably the most frequent comment we hear in the food-processing industry is exposure to possible arc flash (electric explosion),” says Tracy Linton, director of sales for protective apparel for ARAMARK. “If a worker is wearing traditional clothing that isn’t flame resistant, there is a higher probability that the garment could ignite if an arc flash occurs. FR clothing can significantly reduce burn injury and may increase the worker’s chances of survival if caught in an arc flash.”

According to the Electrical Safety Foundation, five to 10 arc flashes happen every day, and can reach temperatures up to 35,000 degrees, says Linton, adding that in the food-processing industry, workers most susceptible to arc flashes include maintenance workers, electricians, and others who work on or near energized parts.

By understanding the different industries the company serves, and working with its customers’ safety departments, Linton says ARAMARK helps its customers develop FR solutions that fit the needs of their workers. “We know that there is no one-size-fits-all approach and we work with our clients’ own safety officers to help them determine the best approach to providing an FR-clothing program for them,” he says. “Our experience has taught us that each industry faces its own unique workplace risks and challenges, therefore requiring specialized FR-clothing solutions that best address these specific needs.” For decades, ARAMARK has offered FR clothing for the traditional FR-using industries. The company’s FR-product line was revamped in 2000 when NFPA 70E revisions created a wider spectrum of workers needing FR clothing. “The biggest misconception for this newly identified group is that workers wearing 100-percent cotton are protected,” says Linton. “Studies have shown that, given daily job tasks of an electrical maintenance employee, cotton could potentially protect only a very small portion of the workforce. Our ultimate goal is to provide a wide range of FR solutions that are tailor-made to fit any job, anywhere, depending on what our customers’ safety experts choose for their employees.”

Mason, Ohio-based Cintas Corp. provides flame-resistant garments designed with snaps instead of buttons for the food-processing industry. “Maintenance workers in food-processing facilities are exposed to the risk of arc flashes any time they work on live electrical equipment,” says Robin Pacey, marketing manager for protective apparel for Cintas. “In order to stay safe and comply with their company’s SSOPs and GMPs, those workers should be wearing the Cintas Indura® UltraSoft® Hidden Gripper Front Shirt.” This shirt, says Pacey, is made of a flame-resistant fabric that meets the NFPA 70E standard for Hazard Risk Category 2 compliance and features snaps instead of buttons.

Winning the LOTO

Lockout/Tagout (LOTO) refers to specific practices and procedures to safeguard employees from the unexpected energization or startup of machinery and equipment, or the release of hazardous energy during service or maintenance activities. Approximately 3 million workers service equipment and face the greatest risk of injury if lockout/tagout is not properly implemented. Compliance with the lockout/tagout standard (29 CFR 1910.147) prevents an estimated 120 fatalities and 50,000 injuries each year. Workers injured on the job from exposure to hazardous energy lose an average of 24 workdays for recuperation. To “lockout” means to place a lock on a device that prevents the release of energy. Locking out is intended to prevent the unexpected startup or energizing of machinery and equipment during service and maintenance operations. To “tagout” means to place a tag on a switch or other shut-off device which warns others not to start the piece of equipment. Tagout should only be used with lockout, unless locking out the equipment is impossible. Equipment should be locked out while being repaired. Accidents which occur because machinery that is being repaired and not locked out often result in serious injuries like amputations, fractures, and even death. Locking out and tagging power at its source is important while repairing or adjusting machinery because it ensures that power does not reach the machinery.

Lockout/Tagout procedures:
• Notify all affected employees that a lockout/tagout procedure is ready to begin.< br> • Turn off the equipment at the control panel.
• Turn off or pull the main disconnect. Be sure all stored energy is released or restrained.
• Check all locks and tags for defects.
• Attach your safety lock or tag on the energy isolating device. < br> • Try to restart the equipment at the control panel to ensure that it is secured. < br> • Check the machine for possible residual pressures, particularly for hydraulic systems.
• Complete the repair or servicing work.
• Replace all guards on the machinery.
• Remove the safety lock and adapter.
• Let others know that the equipment is back in service.

Common mistakes in lockouts:
• Leaving keys in the locks.
• Locking the control circuit and not the main disconnect or switch.
• Not testing the controls to make sure they are definitely inoperative.

The LOTO standard requires that hazardous energy sources be “isolated and rendered inoperative” before maintenance or servicing work can begin. These energy sources include electrical (either active current or stored as in a capacitor), pneumatic, hydraulic, mechanical, thermal, chemical, and the force of gravity. It is important to remember all of the energy sources must be “isolated and rendered inoperative.” Overlooking an energy source has proved fatal on several occasions. OSHA requires three basic elements in a LOTO program — training, written procedures and inspections. All must be kept up to date, and changes must be communicated to everyone who may possibly be affected.

Source: National Ag Safety Database (NASD) and Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA)