April 18, 2024

Food Processing Industry Reports “Alarming Number” of Severe Injuries, OSHA Warns 

In a recent hazard alert (PDF), OSHA urges employers, employees, contractors, and staffing agencies to reduce the “alarming number” of serious preventable injuries and deaths in the food processing industry. Between 2015 and 2022, machinery used for food and beverage processing and butchering contributed to the greatest number of severe injury reports within the industry, the document states. The new hazard alert emphasizes employers’ responsibilities to protect younger workers and temporary and contract workers, two groups likely to receive less training. 

According to the alert, OSHA investigations completed between 2022 and 2023 found an increase in fatalities and amputations among young people who had just joined the food processing workforce. “Failure to provide sufficient training resulting in a lack of understanding of the hazards are frequently the root cause” of such incidents, the agency states. “Employers should focus appropriate attention to ensuring younger and inexperienced workers receive sufficient instruction and oversight.” Federal regulations prohibit minors under the age of 18 from performing most jobs related to meat and poultry processing, citing these jobs as “particularly hazardous” or “detrimental to their health or well-being.” 

OSHA also notes that more temporary and contract workers are now present at food processing facilities due to a rise in subcontracting for sanitation services. Workers may be injured when servicing, maintaining, cleaning, or sanitizing machinery that unexpectedly starts up or releases stored energy. Safe cleaning and sanitizing of machinery requires employers to write, implement, and communicate lockout/tagout procedures in accordance with OSHA’s standard on the control of hazardous energy. “It is the employer’s responsibility to communicate all hazards to subcontractors hired to conduct cleaning and sanitizing operations and who may be unfamiliar with the facility,” the agency stresses. 

The hazard alert also urges food processing employers to provide comprehensive training in languages that workers can understand, prevent fatalities and amputations through machine safeguarding, and implement other controls. 

OSHA’s new hazard alert on severe injuries in the food processing industry, as well as other hazard alerts, may be downloaded from the agency’s website.