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Manual handling in the meat industry


  1. Introduction
  2. Reasons for targeting the meat industry
  3. Reasons for targeting manual handling in the meat industry
  4. What are employer and employee responsibilities for safety, health and rehabilitation?
  5. What are manual handling injuries?
  6. Why reduce the risk of manual handling injuries?
  7. What causes manual handling injuries?
  8. How can manual handling injuries be prevented?
  9. Examples of risk control in meatworks
  10. Job redesign
  11. Where does rehabilition fit in?
  12. Summary

1. Introduction

This package is a resource for managers, supervisors and elected safety and health representatives. It is designed to help employers, in consultation with employees and safety and health representatives, to implement an effective injury prevention program that will minimise lost time injuries, particularly manual handling injuries.

The package:

  • Highlights the importance of preventing workplace injuries;
  • Presents the most common manual handling problems in the meat industry;
  • Suggests an effective means of preventing and managing injuries; and
  • Provides practical examples of action taken by Western Australian meatworkers to reduce their manual handling injuries.

The term "meat industry" means organisations involved in the manufacture of meat products, excluding poultry and smallgoods. It includes the slaughtering, boning, slicing and packing of meat products, and the associated tasks of processing offal and by-products and delivering meat to customers. Much of the information in this booklet is also relevant to the retail meat trade and smallgoods production.

The information is based on a comprehensive assessment of the meat industry during a 12 month project by WorkSafe Western Australia and WorkCover Western Australia. Detailed workplace assessments were made of a sample of large and small meatworks in Western Australia. Workplace visits involved discussions with managers, supervisors, elected safety and health representatives and other employees, and detailed observation of work in progress.

This approach of providing industry-specific information on reducing manual handling injuries has been used successfully in the health industry and the local government industry. As a result significant changes to safety and health practices in these industries have been achieved.

2. Reasons for targeting the meat industry

Work related injury data for Western Australia shows that the meat industry experiences a high number of lost time injuries. In 1994/95 there were 852 lost time injuries resulting in a total of 21,781 days or 99 work years of lost time.

The estimated annual incidence rate (which takes into account workforce size) was 23.83 injuries per 100 workers in the meat industry, over five times the WA average of 4.3. That means the meat industry has a higher number of injuries per worker than most industries.

It is estimated that the meat industry in Western Australian spends close to $3.6 million annually on compensable lost time injuries. In an industry with narrow profit margins, it requires a tremendous volume of product to be sold to recover these costs.

The high number of injuries is a serious problem for both employers and employees. It has a significant impact on the efficiency and productivity of the industry and on the health and well-being of the workforce.

Fortunately, there are ways to reduce these injuries. Based on the experience of meatworks, this booklet will show how injuries can be prevented.

3. Reasons for targeting manual handling in the meat industry

The most frequent type of injury in the meat industry is being struck by an object, such as a knife or carcass, resulting in cuts and bruises. However the number of serious cuts have been reduced with the introduction of safe work procedures and personal protective clothing such as mesh aprons, mesh gloves and forearm guards.

The most costly injuries are caused by overexertion or physical strain while handling loads, and are referred to here as manual handling injuries. These injuries mainly affect the back, neck and arms, but also the hands and fingers.

Manual handling injuries involve extensive time off work, resulting in considerable cost to the industry and pain and suffering for the injured workers. The greatest impact on productivity and health will be achieved by targeting these injuries.

Lost time injuries are defined there as work injuries resulting in one or more days lost time for which a compensation claim is made. Occupational diseases and injuries that occur while travelling between home and work, or during a work break, are not included.

4. What are employer and employee responsibilities for safety, health and rehabilitation?

General Duty of Care

Under the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act the general duty of care is a basic concept concerning the responsibilities of employers, employees and other persons involved with the workplace.

The duty of care for an employer (Section 19, OSH Act) is to ensure, so far as is practicable, that employees are not exposed to hazards while they are working. Employer have to organise safe systems of work, provide information, instruction and training, and consult with safety and health representatives and other employees when safety and health issues arise.

There is also a duty on employees (Section 20, OSH Act) to take reasonable care for their own safety and health and to avoid harming others. There are specific duties for employees to follow the employer's instructions, use personal protective clothing and equipment provided by employers, take good care of equipment and to report hazards.

People who design, manufacture, import or supply equipment for use at a workplace are also covered by a general duty of care (Section 23, OSH Act). they are required, so far as is practicable, to ensure safe design of their products and to provide all the necessary information to ensure their safe use. This provides an opportunity for employers to obtain relevant safety and health information before purchasing equipment and to specify to manufacturers the risks that need to be minimised by safe equipment and plant design.

Manual handling hazards are covered by these general duties in the Act.


A further key concept of the Occupational Safety and Health Act is that of consultation between employers and employees to maintain a safe and healthy workplace. The Act provides for the election of employee safety and health representatives with defined functions, and for the formation of workplace safety and health committees. A safety and health committee is comprised of persons nominated by the employer, elected employee representatives, and the safety and health representatives, and the safety and health representatives for each workplace (Part IV, OSH Act).

Where an employer intends to make changes which may affect the safety or health of employees, the employer is required to consult safety and health representatives before the changes are made (Section 25, OSH Act). Employee consultation and participation makes good sense as it is the employees involved who are most likely to know the risks associated with their work. Involvement in the process of identifying problems and possible changes will also help to ensure workers are committed to any resulting changes.

Procedures for resolving safety and health issues should be jointly developed by employers and employees, agreed upon and documented (Section 24, OSH Act). All parties should be aware of the agreed procedures and know how to use them when a safety and health issue arises.

Guidance Notes available from WorkSafe Western Australia provide further information on the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

Rehabilitation and Workers' Compensation

The Workers' Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 1981 focuses on returning injured workers to work as soon as possible after an injury or illness. Research shows the longer a person is away from the workforce the harder it is to return to work. People who may have difficulty returning to work need to be recognised early and given the necessary assistance. Under the legislation, injured workers have the right to services offered by approved vocational rehabilitation providers. In addition, the Workers' Compensation Board may require that rehabilitation be undertaken.

Employers are encouraged to develop rehabilitation at the workplace as an effective means of reducing hardship for the injured worker, and reducing workers' compensation and staffing costs for the employer.

Employers also have a responsibility to:

  • Hold a current workers' compensation policy to cover all their workers;
  • Process claims for compensation and forward them to the insurer for approval within 3 working days;
  • Pay weekly payments on the normal pay day, once the claim is approved;
  • Pay expenses incurred for medical treatment and associated travel and rehabilitation; and
  • Issue the injured worker within 21 days written notice of any intention to discontinue or reduce compensation payments where a medical practitioner has certified the worker totally or partially recovered, but the worker has not returned to work.

NB: Any weekly payment may be reviewed by the Workers' Compensation Board at the request of either the injured worker or the employer.

Before making a decision on reducing or discontinuing an injured worker's weekly payments, the Workers' Compensation Board may consider whether reasonable steps have been taken by the employer and the worker towards rehabilitation.

Refer to the Workers' Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 1981 for more information.

5. What are manual handling injuries?

Manual handling injuries are associated with overexertion of physical stress when lifting, carrying, moving or holding an object. Injuries from handling loads are usually sprains and strains to muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints, or bruises and fractures from dropped loads.

It is not only lifting that leads to manual handling injuries. Jobs that involve repetitive movements or working in an awkward position for a long time can lead to cumulative strain. Unlike a knife cut or broken bone, the injury does not occur at one particular moment, but is the cumulative effect of the daily strain and fatigue to muscles and ligaments.

Manual handling is also associated with occupational overuse syndrome (also known as RSI) which refers to a range of conditions characterized by discomfort or persistent pain in muscles, tendons and other soft tissues. Some of these are:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome;
  • Epicondylitis; and
  • Tenosynovitis.

Here are some examples of manual handling injuries taken from actual meatworks.

Pinching and grasping beef heads with his non-knife hand, a slaughterman complained of tingling feelings and pain in his fingers and thumb. The pain was keeping him awake at night, and he was unable to ride his motorbike.

Bending over a boning line, a worker was tossing scraps onto a poorly placed conveyor for hours at a time. His elbow was giving him discomfort which resulted in time lost from work.

Unloading beef quarters weighing between 50 and 100 kilos at a butchers shop, a delivery driver slipped on the edge of the truck and fell heavily, seriously injuring his back.

6. Why reduce the risk of manual handling injuries?

Manual handling injuries are costing the meat industry an estimated $1.9 million every year and the industry needs to minimise these costs to remain competitive. An effective injury prevention and management program is needed in every meatworks to improve productivity and efficiency, and reduce the pain and suffering of injured workers.

Workplace safety and health improvements are an investment in the future of the business and are more productive than spending money on workers' compensation costs and common law claims. Significant reductions in workers' compensation premiums can be achieved as insurance companies may give discounts to organisations with a good injury history.

How does your organisation's manual handling injury experience compare with that of the industry in general?

1994/95 Manual Handling Injuries in the Meat Industry in WA

1994/95 Manual Handling Injuries in the Meat Industry in WA
 Incidence rate per 100 workers 7.8
 Average days lost per claim 37.4
 Average cost per claim (1989/90) $6,769
 % change in workers' compensation premiums over the past 5 years  23% reduction

NB. The incidence rate for manual handling injuries across all industries was 1.30 injuries per 100 workers.

The known costs of any injury claim are only the tip of the costs iceberg. Indirect costs, such as providing first aid on site, transport to hospital, and production down time, plus the less obvious costs associated with loss of skilled workers, recruiting and training of replacements, are all absorbed by the company.

Work related injuries can also result in expensive common law claims. Here are some examples of common law claims made in Australian meatworks (CCH Australia 1989).

  • While doing repetitive lifting of heavy cartons in a packing area, a worker injured her lower back and was awarded damages of $308 000.
  • While stacking cartons of meat on freezer shelves, a worker injured his back and was awarded damages of $200 000. The company has since installed a mechanical stacker to reduce this risk.
  • A worker slipped from a stainless steel platform while handling carcasses on the pig chain. One leg went over the edge of the platform, resulting in a serious back injury. Because the surface was worn, other people had also slipped on the platform and complained to management, but no action had been taken. The worker was awarded damages of $332 000.

7. What causes manual handling injuries?

There are many reasons why a manual handling injury occurs, and some injuries are the combined effect of several risk factors. Manual handling injuries in the meat industry are particularly common to the:

  • back and neck;
  • arms and shoulders; and
  • hands and wrists.

Here are some of the known risk factors.

Risks to back and neck:

  • handling heavy loads;
  • frequent and repetitive lifting;
  • handling loads that are difficult or awkward to grip because of their size and shape;
  • awkward postures while lifting, such as twisting, bending, stretching;
  • continuous standing for a large part of the working day; and
  • slipping on greasy or wet floors.

Risks to arms and shoulders:

  • repetitive movements with the arms raised above shoulder height;
  • over-reaching and awkward shoulder movements combined with load handling or forceful movements;
  • sudden unexpected movements, eg handling live animals, resulting in the jarring of muscles and joints; and
  • static postures, ie holding the body or part of the body in a fixed position for a long time.

Risks to hands and wrists

  • frequent and repetitive movements, usually associated with awkward wrist positions while applying force;
  • vibrating knives and saws that damage blood vessels leading to poor circulation and contributing to long term problems in joints and tendons; and
  • cold work environments.

8. How can manual handling injuries be prevented?

The Commission for Occupational Safety and Health  Code of practice for Manual tasks states that job redesign is the preferred option for employers to control the risk of manual handling injury.

An employer should ensure that, so far as is practicable:

  • the plant and containers used in the workplace are designed, constructed and maintained so as to be free of risk when handled manually;
  • work practices involving manual handling are designed, implemented and maintained so as to be free of risk; and
  • the working environment is designed, constructed and maintained consistent with safe manual handling practices.

Teaching workers to lift correctly is not effective on its own at reducing manual handling injuries. Training in good handling techniques is useful for new employees and to remind more experienced handlers about how to avoid poor body postures and how to control the load. However most manual handling injuries are not caused by bad lifting technique but rather by bad design of the workplace. The causes of injury are usually a combination of many risk factors, such as the length of time spent handling loads or the height to which the load has to be lifted or the awkward size and shape of the load. Therefore manual handling injuries can best be prevented by better design of the workplace, the equipment and the job itself, combined with training in specific manual handling skills.

So how should employers and employees go about reducing manual handling injuries in their workplace? Start by finding out where the manual handling injuries are happening and why. Then decide what can be done to reduce the likelihood of these injuries. Put the changes in place and check that they are working successfully. This approach to safe manual handling is known as risk identification, assessment, control and evaluation.

The recommended approach for safe manual handling

Step 1. Risk Identification

Where are manual handling injuries happening in the workplace?

  • Look at injury records
  • Talk to employees and their safety and health representatives
  • Watch the work in progress

Step 2. Risk Assessment

What is causing these manual handling injuries?

Look at:

  • Actions and movements used
  • Layout of the workplace
  • Position of the body while working
  • How often, and for how long, manual handling is done
  • Where the load is positioned and how far it has to be moved
  • Weights and forces involved
  • Characteristics of the loads and equipment
  • Organisation of the work
  • Work environment
  • Skills, experience and age of the workers
  • Type of clothing worn
  • Special needs of workers

Step 3. Risk Control

What changes can be made to prevent these manual handling injuries?

  • Redesign the job
  • Provide mechanical handling equipment
  • Provide training in manual handling skills

Step 4. Evaluation of the Controls

  • Are the changes made working successfully?
  • Check that the changes:
    • Are used correctly
    • Are not causing further problems
    • Do help reduce injuries

Step 1. Find out where the manual handling injuries are happening

Find out which jobs are causing manual handling injuries by:

  • Looking at injury records;
  • Talking to employees and their safety and health representatives about their jobs; and
  • Watching the work in progress.

Look at injury records

Looking at injury records helps find out where and in what jobs manual handling injuries have happened. it is often useful to look at injuries per number of employees or hours worked. Then compare the frequency of injuries between different departments, eg the slaughter floor and the boning room. The insurance company should be able to provide this information.

Make sure the organisation's injury report contains enough information to help identify where injuries are happening. All injuries, near misses and accidents, including those that only result in damage to equipment, should be recorded. The Australian Standard 1885.1 "Workplace injury and disease recording standard" provides guidelines on the information that needs to be recorded.

Look at:

  • The area of the workplace where the injury happened, eg in the head skinning area on the beef slaughter floor;
  • The occupation or job title of the injured worker, eg slaughterman on the beef floor;
  • The part of the body injured, eg back or neck;
  • The nature of the injury, eg strain or cut;
  • How the injury happened, eg overexertion when lifting a carcass or slip when pushing a row; and
  • The type of equipment or machine involved.
  • Talk to employees and their safety and health representatives

Talk to the workers about their job, as they are most likely to know the risks and hazards. Find out which jobs are the most tiring or uncomfortable and are the most disliked. These jobs may most need improvements.

Encourage workers to report pain or discomfort at work. Take all employees' complaints seriously and follow up the reasons why there is a problem. If pain is reported before a serious injury happens, the workplace can be made safe and the worker's job and personal life will not suffer.

Tally workers often prefer not to report any pain in case it results in a drop in wages, but early reporting can make the difference between rapid recovery and lengthy, serious injury.

Watch the work in progress

Watch the jobs that have caused manual handling injuries or the ones that workers find most tiring and uncomfortable. Remember that a combination of many risk factors from each task can lead to cumulative strain injuries.

Employees often improvise changes to their workplace when they are having problems. Look for stacked mats or flattened cartons, used to stand on, or tool handles padded with layers of tape. These are usually signs that something is wrong.

Watch for employees who are obviously uncomfortable, for example people shaking or rubbing their hands, stretching their back as if to relieve tension, or wearing a support bandage on the wrist or elbow. Find out why they are uncomfortable.

The Commission for Occupational Safety and Health's Code of Practice for Manual Tasks has a checklist of all the factors that contribute to manual handling injuries. Use it while watching the work in progress to help decide what is wrong. For a copy of the Code of practice for Manual tasks contact WorkSafe Western Australia on (089327 8777).

Step 2. Find out what is causing these manual handling injuries

Now decide which jobs are most in need of change and find out what is causing the injuries. To decide which jobs are most in need of assessment, look at:

  • The number of injuries related to each job and how serious those injuries have been;
  • The number of risk factors found in that job; and
  • How often the task is done.

When looking for the causes of manual handling injuries think about:

  • The actions and movements used;
  • The layout of the workplace;
  • The position of the worker's body while working;
  • How often, and for how long, manual handling is done;
  • Where the load is positioned and how far it has to be moved;
  • The weights and forces involved;
  • The characteristics of the loads and equipment;
  • The way the work is organised;
  • The work environment;
  • Skills, experience and age of the workers;
  • Type of clothing worn; and
  • Special needs of the workers.

The Code of practice for Manual tasks provides more information on how to assess a manual handling task. It gives a set of questions to ask when deciding why manual handling injuries are happening with a particular job.

The help of a qualified ergonomist or safety and health specialist may also be needed (see WorkSafe's leaflet "Selecting a safety consultant" and list of ergonomics consultants).

Step 3. Decide what changes can be made to prevent manual handling injuries.

Now decide what changes can be made to reduce the risks found in Steps 1 and 2. Discuss any planned changes with the supervisors, elected safety and health representatives, the safety and health committee and the workers affected by the changes. Involve them in comparing and trying out short-listed options before the final decision and implementation. Make use of their experience and gain their co-operation in making the changes.

Reducing the risk of manual handling injuries can best be done by a combination of:

Redesigning the job

The aim of job redesign is to make sure that the work content, the workplace layout and the way in which the job is done are all arranged to reduce the risk of manual handling injury. It includes the design of objects or tools being handled during a task, the work height at which the task is done, and the movements required to carry out the task.

Providing mechanical handling equipment

roviding mechanical handling equipment with the necessary training can lower the risk of injury by reducing the force required to do the job.

Providing training in manual handling skills

Where the previous controls have been unable to reduce a significant risk, then the worker needs training in the necessary manual handling skills for that task. Training is also needed when a job is redesigned or new mechanical handling equipment is introduced, to make sure the employees know the correct procedures and actions to carry out the job safely.

There will often be a number of solutions to a particular problem and some will be easier to carry out than others. Some changes may be short term or temporary measures to reduce a risk, but the long term aim should be to eliminate the problem by mechanisation or job redesign.

Step 4. Check that the changes made are working successfully

Simply changing the workplace will not stop injuries from happening. The changes need to be evaluated to make sure they:

  • Are being used correctly;
  • Are not causing further problems; and
  • Do help reduce manual handling injuries.

Job improvements are not always straight forward, and a period of trial and error is often needed to find a good modification.

Keep a list of all the job improvements that have been made and provide feedback to workers on progress made. Also keep track of the number of lost time injuries and monitor the organisation's progress over time. The number of injuries may go up at first, simply because the injury prevention program encourages employees to report problems. However the number of serious injuries and total working days lost should go down.

9. Examples of risk control in meatworks

This section describes how each of the risk control options of job redesign, mechanical handling equipment and training apply to the meat industry. The most common problems with the design of the job and the workplace are described, followed by ways they can be improved. Examples of mechanical handling equipment used in the meat industry and the type of training needed in manual handling skills are also described.

9.1 Job redesign

Standing at work

Many jobs in meatworks involve continuous standing, eg many workers in the boning room and in the offal room are standing, largely in one place, all day long. Continuous standing is a common source of discomfort and tiredness. It can cause sore feet, swelling of the legs, low back pain, and stiffness in the neck and shoulders.

To reduce discomfort, the table where the person is standing should have a footrest so they can rest alternate legs. This encourages good posture and relaxes the lower back muscles. The footrest should be large enough for the whole foot. Anti-fatigue matting should also be provided to reduce the effect of standing on a cold, hard floor all day.

Sitting at work

Many standing jobs in a meatworks could be done sitting down but normal office chairs are not suitable. A better idea is a sit-stand stool that allows workers to transfer about two-thirds of their body weight onto a "butt-rest" while their feet stay on the floor. They can then alternate between sitting and standing while they work. A sit-stand stool could be used by slicers, tally clerks, carton makers and other workers where their job is largely in one place.

Where space is limited and the worker must be able to move freely, a butt-rest that folds out of the way may be appropriate. The rest can be used occasionally between carcasses and when the chain is stopped, reducing the effects of continuous standing.

There is legal requirement on employers to provide seating for workers where practicable. Occupational Safety and Health Regulation 3.19 (2) states that " If an employee's work is done from a standing position and the employee's work allows the employee to sit from time to time then, to the extent practicable, the employer must provide and maintain seating so that the employee may sit down for the periods when the employee is not working."

Jobs that can be done sitting in an ordinary office-type chair, such as tying strings, preparing carcass tickets and stamping boxes, need a suitable backrest that is contoured vertically and horizontally. The seat height and backrest height should both be adjustable to suit workers of different sizes.

Work height

The work height needs to be right for the job whether it's the height of the carcass on the chain or the height of a table. the layout of the workplace should allow workers to do the majority of their tasks at about waist height and within easy reach. Tasks requiring considerable force or using the body for leverage, such as boning out shoulder blades, may need a slightly lower work height.

On the slaughter floor, the aim is to keep the section of carcass to be worked on between mid-thigh and chest height to the worker. Different rail or chain heights in different areas of the slaughter floor enable the height of the carcass to suit the task. Alternatively the floor level or platform height along the chain can be at the right height for the task. Shackle and hook length can also be varied to suit different carcass sizes. For example, baby beef can have a longer shackle length than big bulls so the carcass head remains at about waist height for workers in the head removal area. Care should be taken in adjusting hook length as longer hooks result in more pronounced movements of the carcass.

Providing the right work height can also improve product quality and productivity. For example, workers trimming fat from beef carcasses above head height are unable to see what they are doing and may leave excess fat on the carcass or trim off excess meat leading to wastage or lower product quality.

Table heights should be designed so workers can keep their arms at about normal elbow position, with the shoulders relaxed and the elbows close to the body. Workers come in all shapes and sizes, with great differences in height and reach. The employer is required to take account of the safety of each employee, and not simply design a workplace which might be safe for an average worker.

For example, many workers of different heights are doing the same task at the same boning table. The tall worker has to stoop and the short worker has to work with arms and shoulders raised. Over a period of time, these awkward postures will lead to discomfort and eventually injury. To prevent injury, workers need to be able to adjust their own work surface to suit their height. Individually adjustable work surfaces, and adjustable work stands and table tops are ways of designing the workplace to the worker.

A temporary solution may be to match workers by height and place similar height workers on the same table and raise or lower tables accordingly. This should only be a short term solution.

Position of equipment

Badly positioned controls and equipment that require frequent reaching at arm's length or reaching above head height can lead to back and shoulder injury.

For example, the control lever to lower the carcass in the evisceration area of the beef rail is often placed above and behind the worker, resulting in an awkward and uncomfortable working position. Controls that are used frequently or in emergencies, such as stop buttons on the chain, should be placed in front of the worker and within easy reach.

Suspended scales on the packing table are often positioned at shoulder height in the middle of the table, resulting in frequent lifting of heavy cuts of meat at arm's length. Weighing scales should be at the same height as the wrapping and packing table and within easy reach so that meat can be slid between work areas and not lifted.

Neck problems are often associated with poorly designed and positioned displays, such as the carcass weight display. These should be positioned at a suitable height, angle and distance to reduce neck strain and with a large enough display to prevent eye strain.

Tool design

The design of the handtools and the way in which they are used is important in reducing manual handling injuries, particularly cumulative-type injuries to the hand, wrist and forearm. Repetitive knife work is a risk factor in strain injuries to the wrist and forearm.

Reducing this risk requires a good knife sharpening facility, employee training program and supervision to ensure that knives are kept sharp. This will reduce the force needed to make a cut, reducing the strain on the worker's wrist and hand. To prevent cuts while knife sharpening, oilstones should be securely fastened to a fixed base and be adjustable to a suitable height.

The handle on all tools, including knives, should provide a good grip and be the right size for the worker's hand. Air knives in particular have a large grip and are fairly heavy which may lead to hand and wrist problems for smaller workers. People's hand sizes vary enormously and suppliers of meat knives should design handles to suit different hand sizes. They should also accommodate left and right-handed users.

The repetitive use of the trigger or push button on mechanical hock cutters, air knives and saws can be a source of muscle fatigue. A worker using a hock cutter can do as many as 19 cuts per minute and press the finger button over 8000 times during the working day. Triggers that require reasonable force and can be activated by the middle part of the finger or fingers will minimise muscle fatigue.

Hand tools should be designed to keep the hand and wrist as straight as possible, without twisting or bending. For example, a hock cutter with a pistol grip ensures a good wrist and forearm position.

Alternative knife designs are available that allow more comfortable wrist positions for various cutting tasks. A knife designed to be used with a straight wrist is recommended.

Vibration from hand tools can damage blood vessels, causing what is known as White Finger, and resulting in numbness and pain in affected fingers. Cold workplaces can make the symptoms worse. Vibration can also lead to cumulative problems in joints and tendons.

To reduce the risk of these injuries employers should ensure regular maintenance of hand tools and encourage reporting of increased vibration in any existing tool. When buying new equipment, ask the supplier for information on the vibration level of the tool and select the model with the least vibration.

Suspending power tools from a balancer reduces the force needed to operate and control the tool. For example, suspending the stun gun (concussion stunner) above the knocking box by a counter balance reduces the weight held by the operator. Lifting the gun to replace the cartridge and striking the stunner against the animal's head both require less force.

This is particularly important given that difficult positions generally adopted by this worker include frequent bending, often with arms out-stretched and feet in an unstable position. Good placement and regular maintenance of the balancer is essential.

When buying new handtools or equipment ensure that the purchasing specifications include how the equipment will be used and the injury risks that must be minimised. Involve safety and health representatives and workers who use the equipment in selecting new tools since they are familiar with the job and the tools, and know the important features to look for.

Work environment

Changes to the work environment can reduce the risks of manual handling injuries. Blood and grease on the floor presents a serious slip hazard, especially when the job involves exerting force, such as pulling the pelt off a sheep or pushing carcasses along the rail.

Providing non-slip surfaces and ensuring regular cleaning and maintenance of floor surfaces will reduce the risk. Providing appropriate non-slip footwear and boot cleaning facilities is also important.

Inadequate lighting in meatworks can lead to postural strain injuries particularly in precision jobs and inspection tasks. Leaning and bending forward to get a good enough view of something will gradually lead to muscle discomfort or strain. The recommended minimum light levels (Australian Standard 1680.2.4:1997 Interior Lighting - Industrial Tasks and Processes) on the work surface for meatworks are:

  • slaughtering — 160 lux
  • boning and packing — 400 lux
  • inspection — 400 lux
  • general work areas — 160 lux

The Construction and Equipment Guidelines for Export Meat (DPIE 1988) recommends lighting levels of 220 lux for slaughtering and 600 lux for boning and inspection tasks. These levels can be measured using a light meter.

The help of a qualified ergonomist or safety and health specialist may be needed (see WorkSafe Western Australia's leaflet "Selecting a safety consultant" and list of ergonomics consultants).

Work organisation

An incentive system of work may contribute to the risk of manual handling injuries. Work which is machine-paced and paid by production can result in excessive demands being made on workers by the employer (to maximise production) and by other team members (to maximise earnings), leading to an increased risk of injury. High work rates with repetitive tasks may not allow adequate recovery periods for heavily loaded muscle groups, resulting in cumulative-type manual handling injuries.

This system of work also encourages workers to complete their day's work quickly and leave the meatworks at the earliest possible time. This discourages the learning of new skills that may slow the worker down at first, and discourages workers taking part in any activities that are not directly linked to production, such as training sessions or safety and health meetings.

It is beyond the scope of this booklet to consider alternatives to the tally system of work, but there are a number of ways that the work can be organised to reduce the risk of injury.

Allow adequate space at each work area for cuts of meat that are sill to be processed to be kept until the worker is ready (referred to as a "buffer zone"). The stored items must not interfere with the workpace needed to do the job.

Allow adequate space along the chain for each worker so they can work ahead of or behind their regular work position. This provides some flexibility and variation in pace for each worker.

Provide adequate supplies of materials needed for the job, such as legging paper, strings, carton liners, so that workers do not have to leave their work area and drop behind in production.

Make provisions for an operator to be able to help balance out any problems if the job demands are uneven, or individuals are not fully skilled in the task, or workers need to take a short break.

Provide adequate workers on the production line to achieve the required work speed and product quality. This should be discussed between employer and employee representatives.

Provide a variety of tasks over a work shift, by moving workers between different jobs (job rotation) or increasing the tasks that make up a job (job enlargement). This should aim to spread the load over as many muscle groups as possible and to move people from heavy to lighter jobs during the shift.

Allow adequate breaks for muscles to relax and prevent build up of fatigue. For continuous, highly repetitive work a five minute break in every hour is recommended (Eastman Kodak, 1986).

Allow new or inexperienced workers, or people returning to work after more than two weeks' off, time to gradually become accustomed to the work. This gives their muscles and joints a chance to strengthen-up for that particular job.

Provide supervision to reinforce good techniques and work practices designed to reduce the risk of injury.

9.2 Mechanical handling equipment

Mechanical handling equipment can reduce the force needed to lift, carry or move objects. It needs to be easy to use, well designed to suit the load, properly located in relation to the work area, and readily available.

Examples of mechanical handling equipment are:

  • roller conveyors to move cartons in boning room, freezers and loading areas;
  • Mechanical stackers for loading cartons into freezers;
  • Screw conveyors and gravity chutes to remove trimmings and inedible products from the slaughter floor or boning room;
  • Mechanical hoists to empty tubs into machines;
  • Mechanical hide pullers, hock and head cutters to reduce the force needed to do these tasks; and
  • Vacuum assisted lifter to lift and stack cartons on to pallets.

9.3 Training

There is a legal requirement on employers to provide employees with the necessary information, instruction and training to enable them to do their job safely. Every employee should be shown how to do their job safely before they start work. Where that work involves manual handling, training should be provided to enable the manual handling to be done safely.

Supervisors and managers, safety and health representatives and staff responsible for work organisation and job design should also receive training. The training should encourage understanding of ways to avoid the risks of manual handling and promote the use of safe manual handling techniques.

Employees and supervisors should be trained to recognise the early signs of manual handling injuries and occupational overuse injuries, and employees encouraged to report them immediately. Early detection means that workplace change can be made before a serious injury happens.

Manual handling skills training need to be specific to the task and based on how to do the task with least risk. Specific skills training should identify the best ways to carry out the more difficult and repetitive tasks so that joint and muscle strain is minimised. Experienced workers often develop the most efficient means of doing a job to minimise the number of movements and the effort required. Teach these techniques to all new workers and reinforce the training in the more experienced workers on a regular basis. Try using videos of employees at work and have small group sessions for employees to discuss and share techniques. Consider having special training tables and lines to enable better training.

New or inexperienced workers may be at greater risk of injury during the first weeks on a new job because they are less skilled at the tasks and under stress to keep up with the work pace. Allow them adequate time to learn the new skills before expecting them to work at full capacity.

10. Control ideas for some specific jobs

Here are some practical examples of how to reduce the risk of manual handling injuries in meatworks. The risks associated with specific jobs and the ways in which these risks can be controlled are described. A range of control ideas are given; some may be short term or temporary measures to reduce a risk whereas others may require al allocation of the future budget to make significant updates to plant or equipment.

Some of the control ideas are specific to one type of product (such as mutton or pork) or one process (such as the cradle method of slaughtering beef). However many of the principles illustrated by these control ideas can be applied across all meatworks, whether export or domestic, large or small.

Not all of the risk factors or all of the control ideas will be applicable to all meatworks, but they represent the range of risks and possible controls applicable to the industry in general.

Each organisation needs to determine where their manual handling problems occur and how best they can reduce the risks.

The requirements of the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (DPIE) and the Health Department of WA (whichever is applicable) for registered meat establishments to produce hygienic meat products need to be taken into account when applying these control ideas.

Whenever updates to the workplace are planned, such as expanding the boning room facilities or altering the layout of the slaughter floor, the control ideas for reducing manual handling injuries should be applied. It is at the design stage of any new plant that manual handling risks can be eliminated or designed out, and greatest benefits of cost savings and productivity can be achieved. Employees and their safety and health representatives should be involved.

The jobs described in this section were all associated with manual handling injuries at one or more of the meatworks visited and have been selected as priority areas for change. The ideas for control have been gathered from various sources and are successfully operating in meatworks in Australia.

10.1 Slaughter floor

1. Removing heads, trimming and washing (beef)

Risk factors

  • Frequent bending due to the height of the carcass head above the ground;
  • Repetitive grasping of face hide in non-knife hand;
  • Forceful movement of knife hand often with wrist in awkward position and at extreme of working range of movement;
  • Sudden jerk on non-knife arm as head drops from carcass;
  • One-handed carry of head over to head rail;
  • Distance carried to head rail;
  • Awkward lift onto head rail due to height of rail;
  • Difficult to get adequate grip of head through jaw or eye socket due to wet, slippery surface.

Control ideas

  • Raise rail height in head removal area so carcass head is between mid-thigh and chest height of worker;
  • Use different shackle lengths for different carcass sizes, ie big bulls have shorter shackle than baby beef so carcass head stays at about waist height for worker regardless of animal size;
  • Provide mechanical means of transferring heads to the trimming line;
  • Reduce distance that the head has to be carried by locating the head rail as close as possible to the head removal area;
  • Reduce height of head fail to decrease the distance that the head has to be lifted (increasing the hook length can also help), the rail height will need to be higher in the head inspection and skinning area so these workers are working at about waist height;
  • Provide a sit-stand stool for the head trimming area;
  • Provide something for moving large bulls' heads, eg a trolley or bucket on wheels positioned at the right height so that as the head id cut off it drops onto the trolley, is wheeled over to the head rail and then lifted onto the rail by two people;
  • Develop a hand tool with good grip for the worker to hook through the jaw or eye socket when carrying the head across to the head rail;
  • Rotate workers between other jobs that use different muscle groups.

2. Legging and leg removal (beef and mutton)

Risk factors

  • Continuous bending over;
  • Frequent forceful grasping of hide or skin with non-knife hand;
  • Awkward wrist positions while applying force;
  • Arms and shoulders in awkward position away from the sides of the body;
  • Twisting of the upper body to reach sides of legs;
  • Shuffling sideways while working to follow the moving chain

Control ideas

  • Provide appropriate work platform height in relation to chain height so the carcass leg is between mid-thigh and waist height; first leg will need a different platform or rail height than second leg or a longer hook length; workers on beef may need the leg slightly lower;
  • Mutton: provide saddle hook so worker can stabilize the leg at about waist height;
  • Consider alternative knife designs that bend the knife handle rather than the worker's wrist;
  • air knives may be more appropriate for legging beef;
  • Provide a mechanical cutter for removing hocks, suspended on counter-balanced cable, positioned at about waist height and not obstructing access to the carcass when not in use;
  • Provide a chute or container for removed hocks within easy reach to avoid repetitive throwing and positioned in front of or beside the worker to avoid twisting;
  • Provide a robotic sensing device and cutter to automatically remove and dispose of hocks;
  • Consider alternatives to the continuous moving chain, eg chain stops at each work position, when the workers have finished their job they push a button and when all the buttons have been pushed the chain moves on;
  • Mutton: inverted dressing lines reduce bending by suspending the carcass by all four legs so the work is about waist height and close to the worker; this may be part of a 5 year plan of upgrading the plant to increase productivity and improve safety and health;
  • Provide particular training in skills and techniques to minimise the force used and reduce awkward body positions.

3. Changeover (mutton) also applies to attaching A-frame and lifting forelegs onto rail

Risk factors

  • Frequent lifting of weights between 10 and 30 kilos, at up to 9 carcasses a minute;
  • Lifting the carcass vertically at chest height while unable to hold it close to the body;
  • Repetitive one-handed lift while steadying hook with other hand;
  • Precise placement of load onto hook or spreader;
  • Lifting from below mid-thigh height to above shoulder height;
  • Using bent knee to lift carcass resulting in unstable footing while lifting.

Control ideas

  • Provide mechanical hoist to lift carcass vertically onto the rail;
  • Provide an inclined rail so the worker only lifts the carcass to waist height and the skid is then pulled up by mechanical means to the right rail height for the next task;
  • Ensure rail height, hook length and work platform height are matched to suit the task, eg putting first leg on a longer hook is easier because the leg does not have to be lifted so high (see picture); the platform height for the next job may need to be lower as a result;
  • Ensure slides and gambrels are stored within easy reach at about waist height;
  • Organise job rotation between jobs that involve different muscle groups.

4. Flanking and pelt removal (mutton)

Risk factors

  • Frequent bending while pulling pelt downwards;
  • Forceful downward pulling, jerking motion;
  • Slippery floor limits force that can be applied without falling;
  • Confined space working close to other employees.

Control ideas

  • Provide pelting machine to remove physical effort from job; this may be part of a 5 year plan of upgrading the workplace and plant;
  • Provide a mechanical "arm" for clearing the pelt from the brisket area, eg a pneumatic, foot-operated brisket drill;
  • Provide training in skills and technique to minimise awkward postures and limit use of force to achieve job; this may be a short term solution to reduce the risk of injury until plant update can be done;
  • Provide appropriate footwear and non-slip floor finishes and ensure regular cleaning to reduce the risk of slipping;
  • Allow adequate space between workers to enable unrestricted arm and body movements needed;
  • Provide a chute or trolley for pelts next to the work area to prevent unnecessary handling where pelts are dropped on the floor and then collected up later.

5. Trimming hides

Risk factors

  • Hides drop directly from the hide puller to the floor resulting in excessive bending over to trim hides at floor level;
  • Hides are large and bulky to handle.

Control ideas

  • Provide a suitable height and size of work surface for the hides to drop on and be spread out for trimming;
  • Provide an automatic conveyor to transfer the hides to the next stage of processing.

6. Evisceration (mutton)

Risk factors

  • High force needed to grasp slippery guts;
  • Twisting of back while placing guts in table;
  • Repetitive nature of job;
  • Lifting guts above chest or shoulder height due to height of viscera table.

Control ideas

  • Provide foot space under the viscera table to allow the worker to stand close to the table without twisting;
  • Ensure viscera table is the right height in relation to the work platform; at or below the worker's knee height seems about right;
  • Organise job rotation to tasks that use different movements and muscle groups.

7. Separating offal at viscera table (beef)

Risk factors

  • Continuous standing at viscera table to inspect, sort and remove offal for further processing;
  • Lack of foot and knee space under the table forces workers to twist their upper body;
  • Stooping forward because table height is too low;
  • Reaching forward to pull viscera off the table, often requiring considerable force;
  • Twisting of upper body while pulling paunches sideways into chute;
  • Slippery wet surface that is difficult to grasp.

Control ideas

  • Provide foot rail and sit-stand stool with foot and knee space under the table to enable workers to vary their position while working;
  • Ensure table is about waist height for most workers;
  • Redesign the workflow so that haunches are automatically transferred from the end of the viscera table into the right chute; a lever or hydraulic arm could be used to separate out condemned material as necessary;
  • Provide a long-handled tool to pull the guts towards the right chute.

8. Cradle method of slaughtering (beef)

Risk factors

  • Pushing carcasses along gravity rail;
  • Difficult handling of large viscera rows;
  • Excessive bending to reach almost to floor level when removing hide from carcass in the cradle;
  • Forward reaching with arms out-stretched to reach middle of carcass.

Control ideas

  • Ensure rail surfaces are smooth so carcasses slide easily;
  • Provide mechanical hoist to raise and lower carcass into cradle, positioned so that movement of the carcass is done without manual handling;
  • Ensure regular maintenance of wheels on viscera rows to make them easier to move;
  • Ensure regular cleaning and maintenance of wheels on viscera rows to make them easier to move;
  • Ensure regular cleaning and maintenance of floor surfaces to reduce build up of blood and grease;
  • Raise height of cradle to reduce bending.

9. Shaving table (pork)

Risk factors

  • Stooping forward over table for long periods;
  • Twisting body due to lack of foot space under table;
  • Awkward wrist posture while shaving pig with knife;
  • Lifting fallen pigs from the floor back on the table.

Control ideas

  • Design the table to prevent pigs falling off thereby reducing unnecessary handling of fallen pigs;
  • Provide mechanical hoist to lift fallen pigs;
  • Extend work platform under table to allow foot room;
  • Provide foot rail and adequate foot and knee space under the table to enable workers to vary their position while working;
  • Provide buffer area for pigs to prevent too many piling up;
  • Consider alternative designs of hand tool to reduce wrist strain, eg razor-styled knife with long handle;
  • Redesign the table so each pig is shaved along its length by one person, thereby reducing the forward reaching involved.

10.1 Emptying and cleaning paunches in the tripe room (beef)

Risk factors

  • Stooped posture and reaching forward over low table;
  • Repetitive movements;
  • Slippery, wet surfaces difficult to grasp.

Control ideas

  • Provide table for opening paunches at about waist height;
  • Provide mechanical assistance for lifting paunches during the cleaning process;
  • Reduce table width to reduce forward reaching;
  • Provide regular job rotation both within the job, ie changing sides on the table and between other jobs that involve different movements.

10.2 Boning room (beef, mutton and pork)

1. Boning on the chain or rail

Risk factors

  • Pushing carcasses along the rail;
  • Reaching above shoulder height and below mid-thigh to remove various cuts;
  • One-handed carrying of removed cuts of meat;
  • Considerable force required with knife and sustained grasp with non-knife hand to stabilize carcass.

Control ideas

  • Ensure rail surfaces are smooth so carcasses slide easily;
  • Vary the rail height or the platform height at each work position so the area of the carcass being worked on is between shoulder and mid-thigh height;
  • Reduce the distance that cuts of meat are carried once cut from the hanging carcass;
    Consider designing a suitable hook grasp for the non-knife hand to reduce pinching and grasping movements;
  • Ensure adequate training and supervision in keeping a knife sharp;
  • Monitor the chilling procedures to ensure that the product temperatures do not exceed the statutory requirements thereby minimising the cutting forces needed for boning and slicing chilled meat;
  • Provide particular skill training to reduce awkward movements.

2. Boning and slicing on the table also applies to trimming and sorting offal

Risk factors

  • Weight of cuts of meat that are handled;
  • One-handed lifting and carrying of cuts of meat;
  • Forward stooping over tables;
  • Considerable forward bending of the neck for long periods;
  • Repetitive throwing of trimmings, often behind or across the body or above head height;
  • Repetitive knife movements, often forceful and with awkward wrist positions;
  • Continuous standing for long periods;
  • Working in a cold environment.

Control ideas

  • Organise layout of boners and slicers workplace for easy transfer of product between tables without unnecessary lifting and over-reaching;
  • Provide height adjustable tables to suit the height of the worker and the task being done;
  • Provide a table surface that can be sloped towards the worker to reduce neck bending;
  • uts of meat can be secured on metal pegs at the top edge of the table;
  • Provide anti-fatigue mats to reduce the effect of standing on a cold, hard floor for long periods;
  • Provide a sit-stand stool and footrest to enable workers to change position during the day;
  • Look at alternative knife designs to reduce wrist and arm strain;
  • Position tubs for trimmings and inedible products within easy reach and positioned in front of or beside the worker so it does not involve throwing and twisting.

3. Packing

Risk factors

  • Height of the packing tables is often too high so workers are reaching over the sides of the cartons and working with their arms raised;
  • Rapid, repetitive movements that are paced by the necessity to keep up with the work speed of boners and slicers;
  • Pushing tubs of meat and carrying cartons between packing areas, full cartons weigh up to 27.2 kilos;
  • Repetitive grasping, turning, lifting and placing of large cuts of meat when wrapping or bagging;
  • Forward reaching with arms out-stretched to reach meat from centre of packing table or to use scales to weigh meat before packing;
  • Repetitive bending to lift large cuts of meat from deep tubs and trolleys.

Control ideas

  • Design packers' work area to minimise bending and reaching, using the right height and width of table and a sloped surface so cartons are tilted towards packers;
  • Provide bagging horns to reduce the amount of one-handed lifting and handling when bagging cuts of meat;
  • Ensure enough space for packers to position cartons lengthways in front of them while packing to reduce forward reaching;
  • Encourage packers to fold the sides of cartons down before packing so they are not lifting cuts of meat over the high sides;
  • Provide integrated roller conveyors to transport packed cartons between work areas and organise the workflow to minimise unnecessary handling;
  • Provide shallow trolleys at about table height for transferring tubs of meat and cartons to other packing areas;
  • Include weighing scales in the packing table surface and within easy reach;
  • Design each packing and wrapping task to minimise the number of movements involved and the force required and teach these techniques to all workers:
  • Consider alternative layouts for packing areas that include from the boning and slicing areas to all packing areas, and the use of buffer areas and revolving tables.

4. Stacking cartons on pallets, stillages and freezer racks

Risk factors

  • Repetitive bending to floor level and reaching up above head height to load and unload cartons from stillages and freezer racks;
  • Multiple handling of product from boning room to stillage, from stillage to pallet, from pallet to delivery truck, from truck to customer;
  • Bending, reaching and twisting to place cartons on far side of pallet;
  • Lack of toe space under pallet increases reaching involved;
  • Working in low temperatures when stacking cartons in freezers.

Control ideas

  • Provide mechanical stacker to load cartons into freezers;
  • Limit the shelves used on stillages to those accessible between knee and shoulder height;
  • Provide pallet lifter to maintain top of pallet at waist height while loading cartons;
  • Provide pallet turner so that pallet can be filled from one position without over-reaching;
  • Provide supervised warm-up time at start of job to ensure joints and muscles are flexible and prepared for load handling;
  • Provide appropriate protective clothing that does not restrict movement;
  • Allow adequate breaks to warm up;
  • Provide roller conveyors to minimise distance cartons are carried to pallets and stillages;
  • Provide a vacuum lifter to handle cartons mechanically.

10.3 Labouring (beef, mutton and pork)

1. Transport of slides, gambrels and rollers

Risk factors

  • Considerable weight of full tubs;
  • Distance to be moved to and from slaughter floor;
  • Slippery floor, changes in floor height, confined space;
  • Lifting and carrying trays of hooks and skids from the delivery truck.

Control ideas

  • Provide automatic transfer of rollers from the slaughter floor to the cleaning area by overhead return rail, by gravity or mechanical means;
  • Cut down the size of the tubs to reduce the weight of a full tub;
  • Provide a mechanical handling aid such as a powered tug to move full tubs or an overhead hoist to lift the tubs onto a custom-built trolley;
  • Ensure adequate space in aisles and walkways to manouevre trolleys.

2. Handling trimmings and inedible material in tubs and rows

Risk factors

  • Carrying heavy trays between work areas, across slippery floors;
  • Bending and lifting heavy tubs from the floor;
  • Lifting and carrying tubs to empty them into chutes.

Control ideas

  • Provide tubs and rows that are easy to use, with large wheels, handles that provide a good grip and designed for ease of tipping down a chute;
  • Provide gravity disposal chutes or screw conveyors at the work area to transfer material from on e area to another without manual handling;
  • Provide floor level chutes with appropriate guards and covers and a suitable size opening for emptying tubs and rows.

3. Handling 50 kilo sacks of bone meal

Risk factors

  • Weight of sacks;
  • Distance carried;
  • One-sided loading and awkward neck posture when carried on shoulder;
  • Repositioning sack once dropped on pallet.

Control ideas

  • Eliminate handling by producing product in bulk form only;
  • Reduce size of sacks;
  • Provide pallet rotator and lifter to reduce bending, reaching and carrying of sacks;
  • Provide a mechanical aid such as a vacuum assisted lifter;
  • Organise mechanical bagging and transfer to pallets by roller conveyor.

4. Load out and delivery of beef quarters and other products

Risk factors

  • Frequent manual handling when quartering beef carcasses, loading delivery trucks and making deliveries;
  • Heavy loads: beef quarters weight from 50 to 125 kilos;
  • Large, awkward items that are difficult to grasp;
  • Reaching above shoulder height to remove or attach meat hook while carrying load;
  • Carrying quarter on one shoulder with neck strained sideways;
  • Confined space in trucks;
  • Slippery floors and ramps, and uneven, poorly lit floor surfaces;
  • Stepping down from trucks at loading docks;
  • Driving then lifting without warming up stiff back muscles.

Control ideas

  • Ensure that the section of rail where the hindquarter is lowered after quartering links up directly with the rail to the next processing area to reduce the manual handling of beef quarters;
  • Provide gravity rails to load trucks, with an extension of the rail from the loading dock that interlocks with the central rail in the truck interior;
  • Provide rails along the length of the truck with gates to enable transfer from central rail, so that carcasses can be moved between rails without lifting; rail dividers may be necessary to stop carcasses moving forward when the truck brakes;
  • Minimise hook changes as far as possible, eg only change the hook when the carcass is delivered to the customer;
  • Provide dock leveller or ramp for truck loading to reduce the chance of trips and falls due to height differences and gaps between truck and dock;
  • Reduce size of product units where possible through negotiation with the customers;
  • Provide non-slip finish in truck interior and ensure regular cleaning of truck tray and ramp to remove fat and blood;
  • Provide non-slip shoes, gloves and overalls so the load can be held close to the body;
  • Provide adequate lighting at the load out area and in the trucks to reduce the risk of trips and falls;
  • Negotiate with customers to organise their facilities so they reduce the manual handling of products being delivered;
  • Ensure drivers' timetables allow time for rest breaks during the day;
  • Provide training in specific handling skills and arrange for new staff to go out with an experienced delivery driver to learn the job.

5. Loading carcasses and cartons out of chillers and freezers and in to shipping containers

Risk factors

  • Repetitive movements and unnecessary double handling;
  • Pushing carcasses along rail requiring considerable force;
  • Extended reach to operate rail gates, sometimes using long-handled gate hooks that are difficult to manoeuvre;
  • Working in cold environment;
  • Difficulty grasping frozen carcasses of an awkward shape and with a cold surface;
  • Reaching with arms out-stretched to pack carcasses into top layer of container, often requiring considerable force to push carcasses into gaps.

Control ideas

  • Ensure regular maintenance of rails to ensure smooth and free movement of skids;
  • Provide gates on rails that are easily operated by controls accessible from below shoulder height;
  • Organise bulk loading of container, such as palletised cartons or pallets of stretch-wrapped carcasses loaded by fork lift;
  • Provide portable conveyor at waist height to transfer carcasses from the store to the actual row of product being stacked in the container;
  • Provide job rotation between tasks that involve different muscle groups;
  • Use fork lift truck or scissor-lift platform to keep carcasses at appropriate height for loading manually;
  • Provide stand inside container for workers to reach top level of stack;
  • Provide appropriate clothing so the load can be held close to the body.

11. Where does rehabilitation fit in?

Injury management should be part of any injury prevention program, so that if and when an injury does happen, its effects can be minimised. Proper medical treatment and rehabilitation can mean that an injured worker will have a safe and early return to work.

What is rehabilitation?

The meaning of rehabilitation within the workers' compensation system is very specific. It refers to providing injured workers with whatever support they need to help them back into a job they can do despite any disability they have.

Physical rehabilitation aims to restore the injured worker to the level of fitness they had prior to the injury, or as close as possible to that level. It involves medical treatment by doctors and other health professionals (eg physiotherapists, chiropractors, occupational therapists and clinical psychologists).

Vocational rehabilitation, on the other hand, refers to the management of the worker's early but safe return to suitable work, at the same or similar level to that held at the time of injury. this will involve assistance from the person co-ordinating rehabilitation at the workplace or an approved vocational rehabilitation provider (a list of these is available from WorkCover WA).

Both physical and vocational rehabilitation are important and should occur together than an injury keeps a worker off work.

It is vital the treating doctor, rehabilitation co-ordinator and the injured worker communicate and work together to achieve the best employment outcome.

Return to the original job is the top priority. It may require flexibility in the hours worked and the type of jobs done, so the injured worker can gradually build up to full work capacity.

If the injured worker cannot return to the original job then an alternative job at the meatworks will need to be considered. Some training, either formal or on the job, is often necessary.

If no suitable job is available at the meatworks, it is advisable to get help from an approved vocational rehabilitation provider. They can assist an injured worker explore work options, retrain and find suitable employment with a different employer.

Why rehabilitate?

Based on 1994/95 figures, 30.3% of manual handling injuries in the meat industry resulted in more than 4 weeks time lost from work. These claims accounted for 88.9% of the total workers' compensation costs for manual handling injuries in the industry.

Effective rehabilitation programs, which prevent claims from becoming long term, can substantially reduce a company's workers' compensation costs.

They will also reduce the personal costs and hardship for the injured workers.

rehabilitation programs can reduce workers' compensation costs

Implementing rehabilitation in the workplace

The first step is for employers and their representatives to establish a clear commitment to rehabilitation and to formulate this commitment in a written policy on rehabilitation.

A rehabilitation policy should:

  • State the organisations' commitment to the welfare and rehabilitation of its injured workers;
  • Establish clear goals and objectives to meet those goals;
  • Assign responsibility for the various parts of rehabilitation programs so that all managers, supervisors and employees involved know what is expected of them;
  • Establish that regular communication will be maintained between the employer, injured worker and the treating doctor;
  • Outline procedures for referring injured workers to health professionals and rehabilitation providers when necessary;
  • Outline return to work options, eg graduated, selected, modified, or alternative duties, to suit the individual needs of the injured worker;
    • State time frames for reviewing the rehabilitation progress:
    • Be developed in consultation with relevant unions and elected safety and health representatives;
    • Establish ways to check the success of rehabilitation methods and procedures at both the individual and organisational levels; and
    • Be communicated to all employees.

Rehabilitation consultants from the WorkCover WA are available to help employers develop rehabilitation policies and procedures.

To have a successful rehabilitation program, people at all levels within the workplace need to understand and be committed to, the principles and procedures involved. Education and training for employees may be necessary and assistance in this area can be provided by rehabilitation consultants from the WorkCover WA.

Rehabilitation is all about achieving a good "fit" between the person and the job, therefore good communication between doctors and the workplace is essential. Some meatworks make verbal contact (by telephone or in person) while others send written job descriptions or lists of "light duties" available and ask the doctor to nominate which, if any, the injured worker can undertake. Some organisations use a consultant doctor with a clear understanding of the workplace and its rehabilitation options. The consultant doctor can recommend return to work programs or communicate with the injured workers' treating doctor.

the term "light duties" is of little use

The term "light duties" is of little use in rehabilitation. Selected, modified or alternative duties are preferred, as they indicate specific types of duties an injured worker can undertake. Selected duties are those chosen from the normal job that the injured worker can still do, while modified duties are the normal duties changed in such a way that the worker can do them. Alternative duties are completely different to those duties undertaken in the normal job.

Finding selected, modified and alternative duties often requires considerable creativity. Help from professionals such as ergonomists and occupational therapists employed by approved vocational rehabilitation providers may be needed. The type and mix of duties to be used in a rehabilitation program must be supported by the treating doctor and matched to the injured worker's specific needs (eg the type of injury and personal attributes).

What are selected, modified and alternative duties?


  • Are meaningful and contribute to production;
  • Include a variety of tasks;
  • Can be regularly upgraded in terms of time and tasks;
  • Include time frames for monitoring progress and making changes; and
  • Will not normally be possible on a permanent basis.

Barriers to rehabilitation

Most of the people interviewed during this project supported the early return to work of injured workers, although they believed there were riers to this in the meat industry.

The most quoted rier related to the way the work was done, ie the tally system which imposes a production-based pace on tally and non-tally workers alike. Labourers and packers have to work quickly to keep up with the work produced by the team, but do not receive the same high wages. This gap in pay between tally team members and other workers contributes to a difference in prestige associated with the work done, and hence, creates a rier to returning to alternative work after injury.

Tally workers who are injured and off work on workers' compensation receive a lot less money as they drop down to the award wage. The same applies if they return to work on alternative duties. Because of the loss of tally benefits and status there is resistance by tally workers to returning to work in an alternative job, that may well be appropriate for improving physical capacity.

Staying off work and waiting for the injury to get completely better does not work. Typically, the longer workers are away from their jobs the more unfit they become. One of the best ways to recover fitness is to gradually increase the level of physically demanding tasks on the job.

In the sense, work may be the best "therapy"; not only does it aid physical recovery, but it also helps reduce psychological effects (eg lowered self esteem and confidence and social isolation) by keeping injured workers in touch with the workplace and contributing to productivity. This concept is fundamental to good rehabilitation.

Other barriers to rehabilitation include:


Where distance to work is substantial and injured workers are on reduced wages they may not want to go to work for limited hours. Some organisations have a budget to cover incidental costs of rehabilitation, not covered by insurance.


Negative attitudes towards rehabilitation or the injured worker create major riers to returning to work. Often negative attitudes develop because people are not informed or do not understand the process. By having a written rehabilitation policy and procedures all those involved develop a better understanding of rehbilitation. How all those involved develop a better understanding of rehabilitation. Managers, supervisors, workers and their representatives accept that it is normal practice to return to work as soon as possible after injury.

Lack of flexibility in jobs

Work practices that produce riers to rehabilitation need to be recognised and changed. If not, workers' compensation costs will continue and injured workers may be excluded from leading full and productive lives.

  • workers are a valuable resource - assist
  • them back to work after injury

The only way rehabilitation riers can be overcome is by communication, negotiation and co-operation by all the people involved. Employers, workers and their respective representatives need to work together to develop new ways to increase the flexibility of the way in which work is organised. it is essential rehabilitation assistance be of a high standard and approached with a positive attitude. Workers are a valuable resource and respect for their value is demonstrated by assisting them back into the workplace after injury.

There are meatworks in this State where occupational safety and health and rehabilitation are given high priority at no negative cost to production; it can be done.

Examples of successful rehabilitation

Successful rehabilitation in the workers' compensation and rehabilitation system is achieved when injured workers are placed in "real" jobs for which they meet the requirements.

Case examples:

1. John, a slaughterman working on beef heads, developed pain in his non-knife hand.

  • He had discomfort for 9 months before reporting the problem.
  • He then visited his doctor and was put off work for 2 weeks.
  • John and his doctor were contacted regularly by the Safety and Health Co-ordinator from the meatworks and it was agreed that John would return to work on alternative duties prior to undergoing surgery.
  • After 3 weeks of alternative duties John had an operation and remained off work for the following 2 weeks.
  • He then returned to work for 3 weeks doing some alternative duties and some of this normal duties ( hour normal and 1 hour alternative). Unfortunately, at this stage his left hand began to swell.
  • John returned to his doctor who recommended further testing be done. John was put off work for 6 weeks to undertake the testing and a swimming program.
  • John then returned to work on alternative duties for a week, followed by a week of mixed duties ( hour normal and 1 hour alternative).
  • John is now back to his original slaughtering job on a full time basis.

2. Bill a packer in the freezer, was struck on the side of his neck by a falling action of frozen meat.

  • Bill was off work for several months after this accident.
  • Three months after the accident, Bill was referred to an approved vocational rehabilitation provider.
  • The provider, working closely with Bill's treating doctor, counseled Bill about his skills and abilities, and areas where he may find suitable work.
  • Having discovered a few work options, Bill joined a community Job Club to support his efforts to find a job vacancy in one of these areas.
  • Five months after the accident, Bill's employer contracted the provider to offer Bill some alternative duties: numbering tags, typing strings and answering the telephone. Bill started these duties for 6 hours a day but his neck pain got worse because the tasks were too repetitive. As the employer was unable to offer any other duties, this return to work plan was ceased on advice from Bill's doctor.
  • Bill again needed to look for alternative jobs with a different employer. He joined the Job Club run by the rehabilitation provider and found an employer who offered him a job as a furniture assembler based on a 2 week work trial. Bill completed this trial period and was employed as a furniture assembler on a full time basis.


  • Nominate a rehabilitation co-ordinator at the workplace;
  • Establish a rehabilitation policy;
  • Keep in regular contact with injured workers and their treating doctors;
  • Use consulting doctors and/or rehabilitation providers, if necessary;
  • Identify selected, modified and alternative duties for injured workers; and
  • Be flexible.

12. Summary

This booklet highlights the importance of preventing manual handling injuries. The costs of these injuries to productivity and efficiency, and in pain and in pain and suffering to the injured workers, is unacceptably high. The WA meat industry spends close to $3.6 million per year on lost time injuries, of which 54.1% is on manual handling injuries. Employers have a moral and legal obligation to provide a safe workplace and to provide rehabilitation for injured workers.

Manual handling injuries can be reduced by identifying where the injuries occur, assessing the risks that contribute to these injuries and then applying controls.

Examples are provided of control measures that can be used for specific tasks associated with manual handling injuries. This is not a complete list of problems and solutions. Each meatworks needs to identify, assess and control the specific injury problems in their own organisation. Each situation will be different and will need the consultation and co-operation of the workers involved.

Injury prevention needs to be an ongoing process of risk identification, assessment, control and evaluation. Simple control measures can have a significant impact on reducing injuries and improving workplace safety. Many meatworks are already experiencing the productivity and cost benefits of improved safety and health.

For further assistance contact the WorkSafe call centre.

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