Hazards and Solutions

Biological Agents

Meat processing workers are exposed to biological agents during slaughter, when handling meat that is freshly slaughtered, and with exposure to ill animals. Health effects may include skin infections, flu, gastrointestinal infections (vomiting and diarrhea) and sometimes more serious infections such as pneumonia, meningitis and sepsis (blood infection). Slaughterhouse and meat packing workers have higher levels of antibodies to biological agents, such as influenza and staphylococcus aureus. Of particular concern are exposures to biological agents that are resistant to antibiotics, such as methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

An increased risk of lung cancer has been reported in meat and poultry processing workers. The cause of this increased risk is not fully understood but may be due to exposure to oncogenic (cancer-related) viruses and/or chemicals involved used in processing and packaging (Johnson and Choi, 2012).

Some specific diseases and biological agents of concern are:

  • Brucellosis is a bacterial infection with symptoms ranging from fever, mild headaches, muscle aches and rash to severe diarrhea and vomiting. Brucellosis can be fatal in rare instances. Both wild and domesticated animals can transmit Brucella bacteria by way of direct contact and through inhalation of infected aerosol.
  • Influenza viruses cause both seasonal flu and pandemic flu. Influenza can be transmitted from animals to humans, as occurred during the 2009 H1N1 (“swine flu”) pandemic. It is recommended that swine workers receive both the seasonal flu vaccine and, when necessary, vaccine for pandemic flu. (Gray and Baker, 2007)
  • LA-MRSA (livestock-associated MRSA) infections of skin and soft tissues has been described in farmers who come in contact with pigs and cattle.
  • Q Fever is a bacterial infection caused by Coxiella burnetii from exposure to infected animals. Symptoms include fever, headache, muscle aches and cough. Infections can sometimes be serious, causing pneumonia or hepatitis.

Safe work practices to prevent infections in meat packing include providing workers with appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), including waterproof gloves, facemasks and goggles, depending on the job activities. Workers should be trained on biological hazards, recognition of symptoms, use of PPE, and hand hygiene practices.

References and Resources for Biological Agents:

  • Dahms C, Hubner NO, Wilke F, Kramer A. Mini-review: epidemiology and zoonotic potential of multiresistant bacteria and Clostridium difficile in livestock and food. BMS Hygiene Inf Control, 2014; 9:1-16.
  • Galinska EM, Zagorski J. Brucellosis in humans-etiology, diagnostics, clinical forms. Annals Agricult Environ Med, 2013; 20:233-238.
  • Gray GC, Baker WS. The importance of including swine and poultry workers in influenza vaccination programs. Clin Pharmacol Ther, 2007; 82:638-641.
  • Johnson ES, Choi KM. Lung cancer risk in workers in the meat and poultry industries – a review. Zoonoses and Public Health, 2012; Feb 15;1-11.

OSHA Publications

Q Fever. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Q Fever-Information for Farmers. Health and Safety Executive, United Kingdom, October 2010.

Confined Space
  • Confined Spaces. OSHA Safety and Health Topics Page. Confined spaces have long been recognized as a serious workplace hazard. OSHA's Confined Space standard is designed to protect employees exposed to dangers such as asphyxiation, engulfment, contact with moving or energized parts, and exposures to hazardous chemicals.
  • Electrical. OSHA Safety and Health Topics Page. Electricity has long been recognized as a serious workplace hazard. OSHA's electrical standards are designed to protect employees exposed to dangers such as electric shock, electrocution, fires, and explosions.
  • OSHA Subpart S - Electrical Standard. OSHA eTool. OSHA published a final rule revising the electrical installation standard for general industry. The revised standard became effective on August 13, 2007. This standard is intended to reduce the risk of injury and death caused by unsafe electrical installations.
  • Electrical Incidents. OSHA Construction eTool.
Ergonomics/Musculoskeletal Disorders
Evacuation/Fire Safety/Hazardous Waste/Emergency Preparedness and Response
  • Means of Egress: OSHA standards that require that exit doors are not blocked and not locked while employees are in the building. Employees must be able to open an exit route door from the inside at all times without keys, tools or special knowledge
  • Evacuation Plans and Procedures. OSHA eTool. Assists businesses to implement an emergency action plan, and to comply with OSHA's emergency standards.
  • Fire Safety. OSHA Safety and Health Topics Page.
    • Exit routes must be free and unobstructed. No materials or equipment may be placed, either permanently or temporarily, within the exit route. The exit access must not go through a room that can be locked, such as a bathroom, to reach an exit or exit discharge, nor may it lead into a dead-end corridor. Stairs or a ramp must be provided where the exit route is not substantially level.
  • Hazardous Waste. OSHA Safety and Health Topics Page.
  • Emergency Preparedness and Response. OSHA Safety and Health Topics Page.
Hazardous Chemicals

Workers in Meat Packing Plants, including cleaning crews, are exposed to hazardous chemicals. Potential health effects of chemicals exposures include skin rashes, eye, nose and throat irritation, burns to the skin and eyes from splashes, cough, shortness of breath, and other symptoms, depending on the chemical. The following resources will help protect workers who come in contact with hazardous chemicals:

Specific Chemical Hazards in the Meat Packing Industry include:

  • Ammonia – may be used in meat packing plants for refrigeration. Ammonia may cause irritation of the eyes and respiratory tract.
    • Ammonia Refrigeration. OSHA eTool. Assists employers and employees in identifying and controlling the hazards associated with the operation and maintenance of ammonia refrigeration systems.
    • Additional information is available on the OSHA Ammonia Refrigeration Safety and Health Topic Page.
  • Chlorine – a disinfectant that is sometimes added to water for disinfecting meat. May cause respiratory irritation and breathing difficulties. Find additional information on chlorine on the NIOSH Workplace Safety & Health Topics page.
  • Carbon dioxide – in the form of dry ice, it is used to keep meat cold. Inhaling carbon dioxide can cause an increase in the breathing rate, which can progress to shortness of breath, dizziness and vomiting.
  • Hydrogen peroxide – sometimes used as disinfectants. These chemicals may cause eye, nose and respiratory irritation. Find information on hydrogen peroxide on the NIOSH Workplace Safety & Health Topics page.
  • Peracetic acid – may be used as a disinfectant and has been associated with respiratory irritation.
Hispanic Resources
  • Control of Hazardous Energy (Lockout/Tagout). OSHA Safety and Health Topics Page. Energy sources including electrical, mechanical, hydraulic, pneumatic, chemical, thermal or other sources in machines and equipment can be hazardous to workers. During the servicing and maintenance of machines and equipment, the unexpected startup or release of stored energy could cause injury to employees.
  • Lockout-Tagout Interactive Training Program. OSHA eTool.
Machine Guarding
  • Machine Guarding. OSHA Safety and Health Topics Page. Moving machine parts have the potential to cause severe workplace injuries, such as crushed fingers or hands, amputations, burns, or blindness. Safeguards are essential for protecting workers from these preventable injuries.
  • OSHA’s Machine Guarding eTool. Focuses on recognizing and controlling common amputation hazards associated with the operation and use of certain types of machines.
Medical Management of Worker Injuries and Illnesses

OSHA’ Medical and First Aid standard 1910.151 requires that employers provide medical and first aid personnel and supplies commensurate with the hazards of the workplace. Meat packing workers have significantly higher rates of musculoskeletal injuries compared to national rates. Early reporting and referral to a healthcare provider for diagnosis and definitive treatment for musculoskeletal injuries can limit injury severity, minimize the likelihood of disability or permanent damage, and reduce workers’ compensation claims. Employers are encouraged to consult with healthcare providers who are familiar with and have training in occupational musculoskeletal disorders. More information for employers, workers and clinicians can be found below:

  • Medical and First Aid. OSHA Safety and Health Topics Page.
  • Clinicians. OSHA’s web page specifically for healthcare providers. [OOM working on a section specifically addressing medical management of MSDs- will link here]
  • OSHA’s publications – Ergonomics Program Management Guidelines for Meatpacking Plants and Prevention of Musculoskeletal Injuries in Poultry Processing – contain recommendations on medical management and prevention programs for musculoskeletal disorders.
  • Occupational Noise Exposure. OSHA Safety and Health Topics Page. Noise-related hearing loss has been listed as one of the most prevalent occupational health concerns in the United States
Personal Protective Equipment
  • Interpretation of the Personal Protective Equipment standard. OSHA Letter of Interpretation, (July 3, 1995).
  • Sharp knives and utensils in the workplace. OSHA Letter of Interpretation, (December 10, 1991).
  • Personal Protective Equipment. OSHA Safety and Health Topics Page. PPE is worn to minimize exposure to serious workplace injuries and illnesses. These injuries and illnesses may result from contact with chemical, radiological, physical, electrical, mechanical, or other workplace hazards. Personal protective equipment may include items such as gloves, safety glasses and shoes, earplugs or muffs, hard hats, respirators, or coveralls, vests and full body suits.
Powered Industrial Trucks
Process Safety Management
  • Process Safety Management. OSHA Safety and Health Topics Page. Meat Packing Plants require refrigerated process areas and warehouses to preserve meat. Facilities with refrigeration systems should develop safety management systems for the identification and control of hazards. If the refrigeration system contains greater than 10,000 pound of anhydrous ammonia, the safety management system must conform to the requirements of OSHA’s Process Safety Management of Highly Hazardous Chemicals (PSM) standard, 29 CFR 1910.119.
  • Ammonia Refrigeration. OSHA Safety and Health Topics Page. Safety management systems should address design, operation, and maintenance of refrigeration systems to ensure leaks and releases do not occur. PSM covered facilities must also develop emergency procedures for proper response if leaks were to occur. For addition assistance please view our Ammonia Refrigeration eTool page. Facilities not regulated by PSM should also prepare for emergencies and, if response is required, the facility must plan in accordance with OSHA's Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response standard, 29 CFR 1910.120(q).
Respiratory Protection
  • Recordkeeping Training Presentations. OSHA, (Revised September 2014). Provides an overview presentation as well as an in-depth discussion of OSHA's recordkeeping rule.
  • OSHA 10-Hour General Industry Outreach-Trainer Presentations. OSHA. Assists trainers conducting 10-hour general industry outreach training for workers. Since workers are the target audience, these materials emphasize hazard identification, avoidance, and control - not standards.
  • OSHA Training. Provides links to training and education resources as well as courses provided by the OSHA Training Institute in occupational safety and health for federal and state compliance officers, state consultants, other federal agency personnel, and the private sector.
Walking/Working Surfaces
Workplace Violence
  • Nearly 2 million American workers report having been victims of workplace violence each year, including meat packing workers. OSHA’s Safety and Health Topics Page on Workplace Violence provides guidance to employers and workers on workplace violence prevention plans.