Hand Protection in the Meat Industry
May 30, 2023
The United States has a higher meat consumption per-capita than any other country, followed by Australia and Argentina.1 In 2022, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it is allocating $215 million in grants and other support to expand meat and poultry processing options; this will help strengthen the food supply chain and create jobs and other economic opportunities.2
With the increased support for the meat processing industry and potential influx of new workers, having the appropriate safety measures and PPE in place is more crucial than ever. This is especially important given the high workloads and extremely fast line speeds seen at today’s meat processing facilities.
While there is evidence that the industry’s injury rate has decreased in the past 25 years, reaching an all-time low of 5.3 cases per 100 full-time workers per year, U.S. meat workers are three times more likely to suffer serious injury than the average American worker. Pork and beef workers are nearly seven times more likely than the average worker to suffer repetitive strain injuries.3 In addition, workers in food manufacturing are more likely to be fatally injured and experience non-fatal injuries and illnesses than those in private industry as a whole.4
Why the increased injury rate for meat workers?
While there have been efforts to mechanize meat processing, the industry is still very hands on. With the ever-increasing line speeds and repetitive movements using sharp tools, injuries can occur in seconds. Meat processing has many different hazards that are not limited to cuts – these can include thermal, chemical, and crush hazards as well. Hand injuries can occur from operating or repairing equipment such as grinders, mixers, rollers, cubers, flatteners, etc. Musculoskeletal injuries like carpal tunnel can result from frequent and repetitive motions.5 Additionally, biological hazards associated with handling live animals or being exposed to feces and blood can increase the risk for many biological diseases, putting workers at risk.6
Types of gloves in the meat industry
In the meat processing industry, PPE is selected not only to help protect the worker but also to reduce product contamination. As such, there is heavy use of disposable nitrile gloves and metal mesh gloves that can be disposed of or cleaned to help prevent contamination. What do both these types of gloves have in common?
While both gloves are selected on the basis of the associated hazards, gloves in the food and beverage industry must be U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “Food Compliant.” One of the requirements to FDA food compliance is that the glove material and chemicals comply with FDA Title 21 CFR Part 177 to help ensure food safety.
Additional tests, like the FDA Extraction Test, evaluate material performance by looking at extractable content from gloves based on solvents such as distilled water or chemicals like n-Hexane. The difference in the solvents used is based on the property of the food. For example, the distilled water extraction test is for applications involving water-based foods like vegetables, whereas the n-Hexane extraction test is for applications involving oil-based foods, like meats. The extractable content is compared against the FDA standard; a “pass” or “fail” result is given, helping give users and consumers assurance that PPE is not contaminating the food.
Other safety measures
It’s not just the mechanical properties of the glove that help guard against product contamination, it’s visual properties too. You’ll notice that most of the gloves used in food processing, specifically meat processing, are blue. Why? Because if any parts of the glove flaked off in the food, it would be easily identifiable, as there is no “true blue” food. Even blueberries are still a purplish blue!
There are many precautions taken to protect the workers as well as the food products. PPE should be selected on the basis of the hazard, and additional evaluations should be made to verify that workers are wearing the most appropriate PPE for their specific function within the meat industry.
Honeywell’s commitment to safety
Honeywell has a long-standing commitment to worker safety in a variety of industries, including meat processing; we not only offer a wide range of safety gloves, from cut- to chemical-resistant gloves, but we also offer hand hazard assessments to ensure the proper protective yet comfortable glove is selected. To learn more about the products and services we offer, visit our website, or contact us today.