FSIS Has Misinterpreted NIOSH Line-Speed Study

John Howard, director of the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), is concerned that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) has misinterpreted the findings of a recent study evaluating worker safety at poultry-processing plants.

At the request of FSIS, NIOSH evaluated the effects of waivers of line-speed restrictions on employee health, with a focus on musculoskeletal disorders and acute traumatic injuries. NIOSH released its findings at the end of March, and Al Almanza, FSIS administrator, subsequently wrote a blog post on the study.

In a letter to Almanza dated April 7, Howard pointed out three aspects of the FSIS blog that he found not wholly accurate.

Almanza’s statement that NIOSH “made several recommendations to improve worker safety at this facility, but slowing the evisceration line speed was not among them,” is a misleading one, Howard wrote.

“Line speed affects the periodicity of repetitive and forceful movements, which are key causes of musculoskeletal disorders. Many of the NIOSH recommendations address the design of job tasks to minimize these factors,” his letter stated.

Second, Howard stated that Almanza’s statement that “the increase in evisceration line speed was not a significant factor in worker safety” was not a conclusion actually drawn by NIOSH.

Lastly, Howard felt that the FSIS administrator had generalized findings from the one plant studied even though the report stated that it “may not be representative of other poultry processing plants.”

“In sum, no conclusion can be drawn from this one [Health Hazard Evaluation] regarding the effect of line speed changes on worker health,” Howard stated.

A spokesperson for FSIS later responded to Howard’s comments this way:

“We regret that NIOSH misinterpreted the FSIS blog entry, which contained nothing inaccurate. The study found, as the NIOSH letter confirms, that increased line speed at this plant did not result in an increase in injuries.”

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