The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has launched emphasis programs in three Midwestern states in an effort to reduce injuries and illnesses that government data show have affected 7.5 percent of employees in the meat processing industry there.

A regional emphasis program (REP) consisting of outreach and education followed by enforcement is underway in Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri.

The REP will focus on musculoskeletal injuries and ergonomic stressors among poultry workers; however, any inspection conducted under the REP will be a comprehensive inspection. Musculoskeletal disorders, which OSHA believes are preventable, arise from stressful, repetitive actions and motions that can cause cumulative trauma injury to joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and other areas of the body. In a March 17 news release, OSHA said poultry workers are twice as likely to suffer serious injuries and six times more likely to get sick on the job as other private sector workers.

In a separate news release, OSHA indicated the agency has launched a local emphasis program in Nebraska that will concentrate on common hazards in meat processing. As with the regional program, musculoskeletal and repetitive motion concerns will receive increased attention, along with machine guarding, control of hazardous energy, and process safety management, OSHA said.

Regarding the three-state program, Marcia Drumm, OSHA’s Regional 7 administrator, said, “The program will also re-direct OSHA’s resources and increase the probability of inspections at establishments in the poultry processing industry.” Addressing the Nebraska-specific local program, Jeff Funke, OSHA’s area director in Omaha, remarked, “Workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths are always preventable when employers implement a safety and health program focused on hazard identification, corrective actions and employee training.”

As with all OSHA emphasis programs, the two initiatives have begun with a three-month period of education and prevention outreach activities, during which OSHA shares safety and health information with employers, associations, and workers. OSHA will encourage employers to bring any potentially non-compliant facilities into line with federal safety and health standards. Enforcement will take place after that.

The agency said the regional program will end on September 30, 2016, while the local program will terminate on September 16. OSHA has the option of extending either effort. The two initiatives join another regional emphasis program, announced in February, focusing on high hazard manufacturing facilities in the same three states: Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri.