Manual tasks - control ideas for specific tasks in the meat manufacturing industry

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Employee / workerEmployer

This page contains control ideas for some specific tasks in the meat manufacturing industry.

Risk factors and solutions

Slaughter floor

Removing heads, trimming and washing (beef)

Risk factors Control ideas
  • Frequent bending due to the height of the carcass head above the ground;  
  • Raise rail height in head removal area so carcass head is between mid-thigh and chest height of worker; 
  • Repetitive grasping of face hide in non-knife hand; 
  • 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; 
  • Forceful movement of knife hand often with wrist in awkward position and at extreme of working range of movement; 
  • Provide mechanical means of transferring heads to the trimming line; 
  • Sudden jerk on non-knife arm as head drops from carcass; 
  • Reduce distance that the head has to be carried by locating the head rail as close as possible to the head removal area; 
  • One-handed carry of head over to head rail; 
  • 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; 
  • Distance carried to head rail; 
  • Provide a sit-stand stool for the head trimming area; 
  • Awkward lift onto head rail due to height of rail; 
  • 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; 
  • Difficult to get adequate grip of head through jaw or eye socket due to wet, slippery surface. 
  • 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. 

Legging and leg removal (beef and mutton)

  • Continuous bending over; 
  • 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; 
  • Frequent forceful grasping of hide or skin with non-knife hand; 
  • Mutton: provide saddle hook so worker can stabilize the leg at about waist height; 
  • Awkward wrist positions while applying force; 
  • Consider alternative knife designs that bend the knife handle rather than the worker's wrist; 
  • Arms and shoulders in awkward position away from the sides of the body; 
  • Air knives may be more appropriate for legging beef; 
  • Twisting of the upper body to reach sides of legs; 
  • 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; 
  • Shuffling sideways while working to follow the moving chain 
  • 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. 

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

  • Frequent lifting of weights between 10 and 30 kilos, at up to 9 carcasses a minute; 
  • Provide mechanical hoist to lift carcass vertically onto the rail; 
  • Lifting the carcass vertically at chest height while unable to hold it close to the body; 
  • 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; 
  • Repetitive one-handed lift while steadying hook with other hand; 
  • 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; 
  • Precise placement of load onto hook or spreader; 
  • Ensure slides and gambrels are stored within easy reach at about waist height; 
  • Lifting from below mid-thigh height to above shoulder height; 
  • Organise job rotation between jobs that involve different muscle groups. 
  • Using bent knee to lift carcass resulting in unstable footing while lifting. 

Flanking and pelt removal (mutton)

  • Frequent bending while pulling pelt downwards; 
  • Provide pelting machine to remove physical effort from job; this may be part of a 5 year plan of upgrading the workplace and plant; 
  • Forceful downward pulling, jerking motion; 
  • Provide a mechanical 'arm' for clearing the pelt from the brisket area, eg a pneumatic, foot-operated brisket drill; 
  • Slippery floor limits force that can be applied without falling; 
  • 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; 
  • Confined space working close to other employees. 
  • 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.

Trimming hides

  • Hides drop directly from the hide puller to the floor resulting in excessive bending over to trim hides at floor level; 
  • Provide a suitable height and size of work surface for the hides to drop on and be spread out for trimming; 
  • Hides are large and bulky to handle. 
  • Provide an automatic conveyor to transfer the hides to the next stage of processing. 

Evisceration (mutton)

  • High force needed to grasp slippery guts; 
  • Provide foot space under the viscera table to allow the worker to stand close to the table without twisting; 
  • Twisting of back while placing guts in table; 
  • Ensure viscera table is the right height in relation to the work platform; at or below the worker's knee height seems about right; 
  • Repetitive nature of job; 
  • Organise job rotation to tasks that use different movements and muscle groups. 
  • Lifting guts above chest or shoulder height due to height of viscera table. 

Separating offal at viscera table (beef)

  • Continuous standing at viscera table to inspect, sort and remove offal for further processing; 
  • Provide foot rail and sit-stand stool with foot and knee space under the table to enable workers to vary their position while working; 
  • Lack of foot and knee space under the table forces workers to twist their upper body; 
  • Ensure table is about waist height for most workers; 
  • Stooping forward because table height is too low; 
  • 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; 
  • Reaching forward to pull viscera off the table, often requiring considerable force; 
  • Provide a long-handled tool to pull the guts towards the right chute. 
  • Twisting of upper body while pulling paunches sideways into chute; 
  • Slippery wet surface that is difficult to grasp. 

Cradle method of slaughtering (beef)

  • Pushing carcasses along gravity rail; 
  • Ensure rail surfaces are smooth so carcasses slide easily; 
  • Difficult handling of large viscera rows; 
  • Provide mechanical hoist to raise and lower carcass into cradle, positioned so that movement of the carcass is done without manual handling; 
  • Excessive bending to reach almost to floor level when removing hide from carcass in the cradle; 
  • Ensure regular maintenance of wheels on viscera rows to make them easier to move; 
  • Forward reaching with arms out-stretched to reach middle of carcass. 
  • 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. 

Shaving table (pork)

  • Stooping forward over table for long periods; 
  • Design the table to prevent pigs falling off thereby reducing unnecessary handling of fallen pigs; 
  • Twisting body due to lack of foot space under table; 
  • Provide mechanical hoist to lift fallen pigs; 
  • Awkward wrist posture while shaving pig with knife; 
  • Extend work platform under table to allow foot room; 
  • Lifting fallen pigs from the floor back on the table. 
  • 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. 
Emptying and cleaning paunches in the tripe room (beef)
  • Stooped posture and reaching forward over low table; 
  • Provide table for opening paunches at about waist height; 
  • Repetitive movements; 
  • Provide mechanical assistance for lifting paunches during the cleaning process; 
  • Slippery, wet surfaces difficult to grasp. 
  • 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. 

Boning room (beef, mutton and pork)

Boning on the chain or rail

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

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

  • Weight of cuts of meat that are handled; 
  • Organise layout of boners and slicers workplace for easy transfer of product between tables without unnecessary lifting and over-reaching; 
  • One-handed lifting and carrying of cuts of meat; 
  • Provide height adjustable tables to suit the height of the worker and the task being done; 
  • Forward stooping over tables; 
  • Provide a table surface that can be sloped towards the worker to reduce neck bending; 
  • Considerable forward bending of the neck for long periods; 
  • Cuts of meat can be secured on metal pegs at the top edge of the table; 
  • Repetitive throwing of trimmings, often behind or across the body or above head height; 
  • Provide anti-fatigue mats to reduce the effect of standing on a cold, hard floor for long periods; 
  • Repetitive knife movements, often forceful and with awkward wrist positions; 
  • Provide a sit-stand stool and footrest to enable workers to change position during the day; 
  • Continuous standing for long periods; 
  • Look at alternative knife designs to reduce wrist and arm strain; 
  • Working in a cold environment. 
  • 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. 
  • 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; 
  • 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; 
  • Rapid, repetitive movements that are paced by the necessity to keep up with the work speed of boners and slicers; 
  • Provide bagging horns to reduce the amount of one-handed lifting and handling when bagging cuts of meat; 
  • Pushing tubs of meat and carrying cartons between packing areas, full cartons weigh up to 27.2 kilos; 
  • Ensure enough space for packers to position cartons lengthways in front of them while packing to reduce forward reaching; 
  • Repetitive grasping, turning, lifting and placing of large cuts of meat when wrapping or bagging; 
  • Encourage packers to fold the sides of cartons down before packing so they are not lifting cuts of meat over the high sides; 
  • Forward reaching with arms out-stretched to reach meat from centre of packing table or to use scales to weigh meat before packing; 
  • Provide integrated roller conveyors to transport packed cartons between work areas and organise the workflow to minimise unnecessary handling; 
  • Repetitive bending to lift large cuts of meat from deep tubs and trolleys. 
  • 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. 
Stacking cartons on pallets, stillages and freezer racks
  • Repetitive bending to floor level and reaching up above head height to load and unload cartons from stillages and freezer racks; 
  • Provide mechanical stacker to load cartons into freezers; 
  • Multiple handling of product from boning room to stillage, from stillage to pallet, from pallet to delivery truck, from truck to customer; 
  • Limit the shelves used on stillages to those accessible between knee and shoulder height; 
  • Bending, reaching and twisting to place cartons on far side of pallet; 
  • Provide pallet lifter to maintain top of pallet at waist height while loading cartons; 
  • Lack of toe space under pallet increases reaching involved; 
  • Provide pallet turner so that pallet can be filled from one position without over-reaching; 
  • Working in low temperatures when stacking cartons in freezers. 
  • 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. 

Labouring (beef, mutton and pork)

Transport of slides, gambrels and rollers
  • Considerable weight of full tubs; 
  • Provide automatic transfer of rollers from the slaughter floor to the cleaning area by overhead return rail, by gravity or mechanical means; 
  • Distance to be moved to and from slaughter floor; 
  • Cut down the size of the tubs to reduce the weight of a full tub; 
  • Slippery floor, changes in floor height, confined space; 
  • 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; 
  • Lifting and carrying trays of hooks and skids from the delivery truck. 
  • Ensure adequate space in aisles and walkways to manoeuvre trolleys. 
Handling trimmings and inedible material in tubs and rows
  • Carrying heavy trays between work areas, across slippery floors; 
  • 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; 
  • Bending and lifting heavy tubs from the floor; 
  • Provide gravity disposal chutes or screw conveyors at the work area to transfer material from one area to another without manual handling; 
  • Lifting and carrying tubs to empty them into chutes. 
  • Provide floor level chutes with appropriate guards and covers and a suitable size opening for emptying tubs and rows. 
Handling 50 kilo sacks of bone meal
  • Weight of sacks; 
  • Eliminate handling by producing product in bulk form only; 
  • Distance carried; 
  • Reduce size of sacks; 
  • One-sided loading and awkward neck posture when carried on shoulder; 
  • Provide pallet rotator and lifter to reduce bending, reaching and carrying of sacks; 
  • Repositioning sack once dropped on pallet. 
  • Provide a mechanical aid such as a vacuum assisted lifter; 
  • Organise mechanical bagging and transfer to pallets by roller conveyor. 
Load out and delivery of beef quarters and other products
  • Frequent manual handling when quartering beef carcasses, loading delivery trucks and making deliveries; 
  • 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; 
  • Heavy loads: beef quarters weight from 50 to 125 kilos; 
  • 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; 
  • Large, awkward items that are difficult to grasp; 
  • 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; 
  • Reaching above shoulder height to remove or attach meat hook while carrying load; 
  • Minimise hook changes as far as possible, eg only change the hook when the carcass is delivered to the customer; 
  • Carrying quarter on one shoulder with neck strained sideways; 
  • 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; 
  • Confined space in trucks; 
  • Reduce size of product units where possible through negotiation with the customers; 
  • Slippery floors and ramps, and uneven, poorly lit floor surfaces; 
  • Provide non-slip finish in truck interior and ensure regular cleaning of truck tray and ramp to remove fat and blood; 
  • Stepping down from trucks at loading docks; 
  • Provide non-slip shoes, gloves and overalls so the load can be held close to the body; 
  • Driving then lifting without warming up stiff back muscles. 
  • 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. 

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

  • Repetitive movements and unnecessary double handling; 
  • Ensure regular maintenance of rails to ensure smooth and free movement of skids; 
  • Pushing carcasses along rail requiring considerable force; 
  • Provide gates on rails that are easily operated by controls accessible from below shoulder height; 
  • Extended reach to operate rail gates, sometimes using long-handled gate hooks that are difficult to manoeuvre; 
  • Organise bulk loading of container, such as palletised cartons or pallets of stretch-wrapped carcasses loaded by fork lift; 
  • Working in cold environment; 
  • Provide portable conveyor at waist height to transfer carcasses from the store to the actual row of product being stacked in the container; 
  • Difficulty grasping frozen carcasses of an awkward shape and with a cold surface; 
  • Provide job rotation between tasks that involve different muscle groups; 
  • Reaching with arms out-stretched to pack carcasses into top layer of container, often requiring considerable force to push carcasses into gaps. 
  • 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. 


Case examples of rehabilitation in meat works

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. 

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, counselled 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. 
Last updated 26 May 2014

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