Health risks in a poultry processing plant


You have been asked to undertake a workplace visit to a poultry processing plant, in order to identify potential hazards and health risks to workers.

The following video (just over one minute in length) shows the area where poultry is trimmed.

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Potential hazards and health risks

There are many safety and health hazards in the poultry processing industry. These hazards include exposure to high noise levels, dangerous equipment, slippery floors and hazardous chemicals (including ammonia that is used as a refrigerant).

Cuts and lacerations

Injuries may result from the extensive use of knives and other sharp-bladed instruments to trim and cut the birds, with conveyor moving at speed.


Some employees who work in poultry processing develop skin rashes and dermatitis. A daily repeat hand-cleansing routine can cause or aggravate skin problems. In addition, exposure to temperature changes may cause chapped skin.

Cold/wet environment

Temperatures in a poultry processing plant have to be kept cool to and the environment is generally wet and cold. Workers with poor circulation to the extremities (hands and/or feet) may experience increased discomfort in such an environment because of the additional constriction of blood vessels caused by the cold. Long-term exposure to a cool, damp environment also produces more discomfort for individuals with musculoskeletal disorders such as arthritis. [Muscles don’t work so well in the cold, hence the need for "warm up" when doing exercise.]

Slips and falls

Floors and work areas in poultry processing are likely to be wet because of the wet processes involved and also because of the need for frequent cleaning. Standing and walking in work areas with slippery floors increases the potential for slips and falls.

Chemical exposures

Ammonia and chlorine are potentially used in these facilities and may present occupational hazards with skin and respiratory health risks in particular. The extensive use of dry ice may also present the possibility for worker exposure to high levels of carbon dioxide, especially with poor local and/or general ventilation.

Noise exposure

It is evident from this video clip that the workers are in a noisy work environment. Prolonged exposure to excessive noise can cause permanent hearing damage. Individual susceptibility, exposure duration and noise frequency, plus intensity, are factors that determine the exposure risk.

Cumulative trauma disorders

Studies show that workers with jobs requiring frequent hand exertion and repetitions of muscle group activity may develop cumulative trauma disorders. Cumulative trauma disorders are injuries that develop gradually from repeated stress to a particular body part. Workers who cut or pull the meat from the bone use rapid and repetitive motions that put pressure on their wrists and hands. This situation makes these people vulnerable to debilitating conditions of the nerves, muscles, and tendons.

Standing in one position for long periods of time can cause discomfort or strain to muscles of the back and legs, because the muscles remain in a position of contraction without allowing for periods of relaxation or movement.

Biological hazards

Salmonellosis, campylobacteriosis and chlamydiosis are just 3 of the common zoonotic diseases transmitted from poultry to humans.

Further reading

  • Units from the University of Manchester postgraduate programmes: [Occupational Dermatoses, Respiratory Disorders, Temperature and Work, etc.]
  • Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website [for legislation and legal requirements].

Acknowledgements: Dr Dil Sen