NIOSH Notes "Alarming Prevalence" of Carpal Tunnel in Poultry Processing Workers

Published April 2, 2014

Forty-two percent of workers who participated in a NIOSH health hazard evaluation (HHE) of a South Carolina poultry processing plant had evidence of carpal tunnel syndrome, according to the agency’s final HHE report.

The plant requested the HHE as part of a U.S. Department of Agriculture/Food Safety and Inspection Service requirement to receive a waiver for increasing the speed of its “evisceration line.” NIOSH staff visited the plant before and after the line speed increase and noted an “alarming prevalence” of carpal tunnel syndrome in workers at the plant.

Before the line speed increase, NIOSH found that 41 percent of workers participating in the evaluation performed jobs above the ACGIH threshold limit value (TLV) for hand activity and force. During its follow-up evaluation after the increase in line speed, NIOSH found that 32 percent of 131 participants were performing jobs above the TLV for hand activity and force.

“The challenge to the industry is to redesign poultry processing work so that a meaningful reduction in risk factors for musculoskeletal disorders and traumatic injuries takes place,” the NIOSH report reads. “While some mechanization in certain processes has been helpful, more changes are needed.”

Following are a few of NIOSH’s recommendations to improve work conditions at the plant:

  • implement the 2013 OSHA Guidelines for Poultry Processing and recommendations from poultry industry groups to prevent musculoskeletal disorders
  • design job tasks so that levels of hand activity and force are below the TLV
  • institute a medical surveillance program for musculoskeletal disorders
  • use a job rotation schedule so workers can rotate to jobs that are below the TLV for hand activity and force

For more information, see NIOSH’s full report. Other NIOSH HHE reports are available on the agency’s website.