Hazards Working in the Meat Industry

Topics: Retail

Butchers and grocery store meat department employees face a multitude of injury risks on a daily basis. AmTrust’s Retail Risk Report found the following claims-paid data from 2018 as it relates to various injury types:

Here’s a closer look at the most common injuries workers in the meat, poultry and fish industry face, and ways to mitigate those risks.

Reducing Risks Facing Meat, Poultry and Fish Industry Workers


It’s not surprising that there are several cutting hazards in occupations that regularly use sharp tools and machinery. Severe cuts are a common workplace injury that can be traced back to a lack of training and supervision, lack of attention while using sharp tools and machinery, or missteps such as using damaged guards (or a lack of guarding altogether). Seasoned butchers may forgo the use of cut-resistant gloves when handling knives, as they feel they are experienced enough to work without them – thus leaving them open to the possibility of a serious injury.

Help prevent cuts by making sure employees wear appropriate hand and foot protection at all times. OSHA standards for hand protection include steel mesh gloves to guard hands against blade cuts. The only exception to this rule should be in the instance of using meat-processing equipment like band saws, meat cubers or grinders, as wearing gloves in these situations could actually lead to a catastrophic injury. The hazard of having hands pulled into the machinery if the glove becomes entangled is much more serious than the hazard for which the glove is being worn.

Cuts also occur from washing/cleaning of knives and blades. Hand protection should be worn during this activity and there should be a designated sink or area in which used knives are placed.

Sturdy, close-toed shoes should be worn to protect feet should a knife be dropped accidentally. Knives should be placed in a designated area when not in use, keeping the blades with the cutting edge facing safely away.

Repetitive Motions

Cutting meat is not an easy task. A high level of force is often needed which can lead to strain on the hands, shoulders, neck and back. Hand-intensive tasks, in particular, put significant stress on areas like the wrist and tendons.

Long-term repetitive hand motions can lead to chronic problems, such as carpal tunnel syndrome – a condition that's caused by pressure on the median nerve at the wrist. It causes pain, numbness and tingling in the hand and arm and can worsen over time. Tendonitis is inflammation of a muscle or tendon, and can also occur as a result of repetitive motions.

The long-term effects can be reduced by spreading out repetitive tasks to various workers throughout the day. In order to reduce work periods in which excessive repetitive wrist bending is necessary, employees should be allowed to take frequent breaks from these types of activities and encouraged to stretch their muscles regularly.

Strains and Other Muscle Injuries

Butchers and grocery store meat department employees stand for long periods of time. This puts a strain on muscles and joints in the leg. It can also cause an individual to suffer from back pain, especially if the fatigue from standing results in poor posture. Non-adjustable work surfaces can lead to poor working postures.

Lifting heavy items can result in muscle strains in the shoulders, back, neck and legs. Back injuries can also occur from forceful movements such as cutting. Poorly arranged work areas may lead to bending or reaching beyond comfortable ranges, putting a strain on the neck, shoulders and back.

These types of injuries can be mitigated by positioning grinders, slicers, scales and other commonly used items so that work is performed at about elbow height. Adding ergonomic workstations can help workers avoid some discomfort, and adding anti-fatigue mats to work areas can help relieve some of the strain from standing for long periods of time.

Employees should be taught methods for proper lifting and carrying awkward, heavy items to reduce their risk of injury. Objects should be lifted by bending at the knees (not the back), and properly carrying the item by keeping the heaviest part closest to the body. Any object that weighs over 50 pounds should require two people to lift and carry it. To minimize the handling of extremely heavy items, use material handling devices like hand trucks and dollies.

Slips, Falls and Other Hazards

Slips and falls are another source of injury. Train employees to immediately clean up spills or place a wet floor sign over the area if the spill cannot be immediately cleaned. Degreasers should be utilized for cleanup in wet/greasy areas. Shoes with quality, slip-resistant soles should be worn at all times, and slip-resistant mats with beveled edges should be placed in wet areas.

Butcher shops and grocery store meat departments must maintain a very high level of cleanliness and sanitation. That requires frequent use of cleaning and disinfecting chemicals. Prolonged exposure to these can lead to respiratory issues, blindness, organ damage and skin/eye irritation.

A Hazardous Communication program (HAZCOM) should be established to give employees knowledge of the proper use of chemicals, the personal protective equipment needed and other vital information. The program should also include training on how Safety Data Sheets (SDS) are used and clarify how employees will access the SDS.

Manage Risks with Loss Control Services from AmTrust

AmTrust’s Loss Control Department specializes in risk management solutions. We create customized workplace safety programs, identifying specific hazards and offer tailored solutions. We are dedicated to providing the right resources to create the most effective loss control program for the specific needs of our insureds. For more information, please contact us today.

This material is for informational purposes only and is not legal or business advice. Neither AmTrust Financial Services, Inc. nor any of its subsidiaries or affiliates represents or warrants that the information contained herein is appropriate or suitable for any specific business or legal purpose. Readers seeking resolution of specific questions should consult their business and/or legal advisors. Coverages may vary by location. Contact your local RSM for more information.

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