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OSHA and Meat Processing Industry in Nebraska Work Together to Promote Safety

In February 2000, OSHA's Area Office in Omaha, Nebraska entered into a partnership with members of Nebraska's meat processing industry. The goal of this initiative was to address the high fatality, injury, and illness rates that plagued the industry. While this initiative is not part of OSHA's Strategic Partnership Program, it is an example of successful collaboration between OSHA and industry to improve worker safety and health.

With the help of other safety and health organizations such as the Nebraska Department of Labor–Workforce Development, National Safety Council–Omaha Chapter, and the Nebraska Safety Council, the initiative has achieved outstanding results. It has succeeded both in reducing injury and illness rates among participating establishments and in promoting dialogue and building trust among participants.

This program has been especially gratifying because the meat processing industry is one of the largest manufacturing employers in Nebraska (over 25,000 employees statewide) with one of the highest injury and illness rates recorded by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Additionally, the relationship between OSHA and members of the meat processing community had been strained, if not antagonistic, before this program. There has been tremendous progress made within the group to build cooperative, trusting relationships. These relationships have developed not only between OSHA and the individual companies, but also between the companies themselves. As of October 2003, there were 43 facilities involved in this program, including one Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) participant.

During the first three years of the initiative, participating facilities realized a 23 percent reduction in injuries and illnesses resulting in days away from work or restricted work activities. There has also been a 39 percent reduction in total recordable injury and illness cases, which includes cases resulting in days away from work, cases resulting in restricted work, and cases requiring medical treatment. These are noteworthy improvements in an extremely hazardous industry over a relatively short period of time. Company representatives provide injury and illness data to OSHA for tracking purposes on a semi-annual basis.

The group meets bi-monthly to learn about current safety and health practices, share safety-related "best practices" that have proven successful in their facilities, and discuss safety issues of concern to participants. The participants take turns administering these meetings, with OSHA representatives providing assistance when needed. Participating companies, OSHA representatives, and other stakeholders provide training to the group. Topics have included ergonomics, noise, lacerations, training bilingual workforces, and personal protective equipment. For example, a meeting in September 2003 included a visit from the Lt. Governor of Nebraska, a presentation from a facility plant manager about their recent compliance inspection, a review of a best practice from another facility, a training session on the new exit standard, and time for networking and interaction between the group members.

Participation in this voluntary program has proven to be beneficial to a number of Nebraska meat processing facilities. It also supports the recommendations from the Governor of Nebraska's Meat Processing Task Force and the Governor's Bill of Rights for Meat Processing Employees.

Kathleen Krantz, technical resource director for the Greater Omaha Packing Company, said that since joining the program, her company's rate of lost workdays due to injuries and illnesses (LWDII rate) has dropped 60 percent. "We keep raising the bar, and our goal is zero," she said. "I'm a firm believer that by sharing information and putting the best practices into place, we can make a real difference."

For more information, please contact Doug Fletcher, Compliance Assistance Specialist in OSHA's Area Office in Omaha, Nebraska, at Doug Fletcher.

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