One in three workers have carpal tunnel syndrome at Maryland poultry plant

One in three workers have carpal tunnel syndrome at Maryland poultry plant (via The Pump Handle). This report from the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is absolutely shocking. In summary:

  • 59% of jobs were at risk because of the combination of hand activity and force required
  • 34% of workers examined had carpal-tunnel syndrome
  • 76% of workers examined had evidence of damage to the nerves in at least one hand

Carpal tunnel syndrome and other work-related upper limb disorders are both foreseeable and preventable, and to fail to identify and act on the risk is negligence on the part of the employer. As this report identifies, work design is critical to protecting workers and preventing life-changing injuries. The report makes recommendations to employers in the poultry processing sector, including:

  • Implementing the OSHA industry guidelines
  • Designing tasks to reduce hand activity and force to safe levels
  • Reducing the speed of lines
  • Rotating tasks to reduce muscular stress
  • Providing more breaks
  • Implementing health surveillance

What’s missing from this list, and is crucial to success in my view, is the provision of clear, understandable information about the health risks from the work activities, together with instruction, training and supervision on adapting work stations to fit the individual workers. Adjusting workstations is listed as an action for employees, not employers, in the NIOSH report. This is a missed opportunity for the regulator to send a clear message to businesses that they are ultimately responsible for providing safe systems of work for their employees. At a recent training session on musculo-skeletal disorders the trainer, a former HSE inspector, asked us whether we would rather lose a finger or have carpal-tunnel syndrome. We all would have chosen to lose a finger.

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