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    Workplace Safety & Health

November 24, 2009

Tyson and UFCW Mark Two Decades of Workplace Safety Progress

Dakota Dunes, S.D. – The nation’s leading meat processor and the country’s largest union representing meatpacking and food processing workers have just completed the 20th year of a workplace ergonomics program that is making meat processing jobs safer.

The ground-breaking program initiated by Tyson Fresh Meats, formerly known as IBP, and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union, has involved workplace improvements that have helped reduce worker injuries and illnesses, such as strains and sprains.

Ergonomics, which is the science of designing the workplace to fit the worker, had not been extensively used in the meat industry until the company and union reached an agreement after an historic OSHA citation and settlement in late November 1988 followed up with the joint Tyson-UFCW program to develop a comprehensive ergonomics research program.

The program got underway in early 1989, with the company’s Dakota City, Nebraska, beef complex serving as the pilot plant, and production workers represented by UFCW Local 222, were actively involved.  Due to the success of the pilot, the program was quickly expanded to all of the company’s beef and pork plants.

Some of the key elements of the program include ongoing ergonomics training for production workers; the involvement of hourly workers as ‘ergonomic monitors;’worksite analysis and the redesign of work stations and equipment; and a medical management program focused on early detection and treatment of workplace injuries and illnesses.

Tyson and UFCW leaders believe the program has made a difference.  For example, the OSHA recordable injury and illness rate at the Dakota City plant is currently running 67 percent below the rate recorded in 1991.  Meanwhile, the current rate of injuries and illnesses at Dakota City requiring the involvement of a physician is 73 percent below 1991 levels.

“Over the past 20 years, our company has devoted millions of dollars in ergonomically designed equipment and process improvements, as well as training, which we believe have helped prevent workplace injuries and illnesses,” said Jim Lochner, chief operating officer of Tyson Foods.  “However, the real key to the success of this program has been the workers who serve as safety and ergonomics monitors.  The input we’ve received from hourly production workers and the participation of our plant and corporate management teams, have been invaluable.”

“What this program shows is that when workers have input on working conditions, when they are part of the decision-making process, you come up with a better, safer environment—and that’s good for everybody,” said UFCW Food Processing, Packing and Manufacturing Division Director Mark Lauritsen.  “It works because everyone is involved from Tyson management to UFCW leaders, ergo monitors and production workers.”

“The union and Tyson have worked together to make this ergonomics program what it is today (and) I think we’re way ahead of the industry with our program,” said Marvin Harrington, President of UFCW Local 222, which represents workers at the Dakota City plant.  “We’re proud the program is part of our UFCW contract with Tyson.  We train UFCW members on how to identify hazards and recommend fixes.  Having both Tyson management and UFCW members engaged on detecting hazards makes for an efficient process.”

Tyson has been involved in numerous engineering projects designed to modify work stations and equipment in order to reduce physical stressors on the job.  Examples include redesigned knife handles, height-adjustable work stations, use of lighter-weight saws/power tools, hydraulic/mechanical assists to lift or separate product, lower overhead chains and conveyors to eliminate reaching over shoulder height, product diverters on conveyor lines to bring product closer to workers, comfortable/level floor surfaces, improved illumination and job rotation.   The company has also worked to reduce the vibration generated by certain tools and modified personal protective equipment to make it fit better and be more comfortable.

“We’ve implemented some major mechanical and process changes in our beef and pork plants over the years,” said Tom DeRoos, Corporate Ergonomics Program Manager for Tyson.  “This includes equipment designed to replace some of what had previously been done manually by production workers.  For example, many of our pork plants have automatic loin trimmers to remove fat from surface of the pork loins.”

Ergonomics were part of the design of Tyson’s new, multi-million dollar beef processing floor at Dakota City.  The new addition, which became operational in early 2006, includes adjustable work stations as well as a production flow designed with worker safety and health in mind.

But not all of the ergonomic improvements have involved major changes.  “Many of them have been what we call ‘quick fixes,’ which are projects that can be done in a matter of a few days,” said Dennis Golden, Training Manager/Ergonomics Liaison at Tyson’s Dakota City plant, who has been involved in the ergonomics program since its inception.  “For example, since late 1988, we’ve implemented more than 3,600 quick fixes at our Dakota City plant, making minor adjustments such as moving a gear box or relocating a knife sanitizer to make the work station more comfortable for team members.”

“I’ve been involved with the ergo program from the start as a UFCW member serving on a monitoring committee and as a union representative,” said Carmen Hacht, Local 222 Recorder.   “The key to making it work is monitors making the rounds, surveying workers, documenting the kinds of strain people are feeling, then following up and making sure that the fixes make a positive difference.”

Effective medical management is also essential to the ergonomics program. Its focus is early reporting and treatment of any workplace injuries or illnesses. “We require our team members to report all work-related injuries or illnesses, no matter how minor they believe them to be,” said DeRoos.  “By immediately assessing and treating such injuries or illnesses, we’re often able to help reduce the severity and duration.”

Tyson Fresh Meats currently operates eight beef plant and six pork plants in the United States.  In addition to Dakota City, this includes beef plants in Amarillo, Texas; Denison, Iowa; Joslin, Illinois; Emporia, Kansas; Finney County, Kansas; Lexington, Nebraska; and Pasco, Washington.  The company’s pork plants are in Logansport, Indiana; Louisa County, Iowa; Storm Lake, Iowa; Perry, Iowa; Waterloo, Iowa; and Madison, Nebraska.   The UFCW represents workers at Tyson plants in Dakota City, Joslin, Perry, Logansport and Waterloo.

About Tyson Foods, Inc.

Tyson Foods, Inc., founded in 1935 with headquarters in Springdale, Arkansas, is the world’s largest processor and marketer of chicken, beef and pork, the second-largest food production company in the Fortune 500 and a member of the S&P 500. The company produces a wide variety of protein-based and prepared food products and is the recognized market leader in the retail and foodservice markets it serves.  Tyson provides products and service to customers throughout the United States and more than 90 countries.  The company has approximately 117,000 Team Members employed at more than 300 facilities and offices in the United States and around the world.  Through its Core Values, Code of Conduct and Team Member Bill of Rights, Tyson strives to operate with integrity and trust and is committed to creating value for its shareholders, customers and Team Members. The company also strives to be faith-friendly, provide a safe work environment and serve as stewards of the animals, land and environment entrusted to it.

About the UFCW

The UFCW represents 1.3 million workers, 250,000 in the meatpacking and poultry industries, including 22,000 who work at Tyson plants.  UFCW members also work in the health care, garment, chemical, distillery and retail industries. The UFCW and its predecessor unions have represented workers in the packing and processing industries for more than 100 years. Union contracts in the industry ensured equal pay for equal work for African Americans and women decades before equal pay became a larger societal goal. The UFCW has also been a leading national voice on workplace safety and health, helping spearhead protective federal legislation and OSHA regulations on waste containment, ergonomics, diacetyl, and combustible dust, among other initiatives.

November 16, 2009

GAO Report Clear: OSHA Must Focus on Workers

WASHINGTON, D.C. – “Today, a new report by the Government Accountability Office reveals that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) frequently undercounts injuries to American workers, and reveals a complete and systemic failure in the way that OSHA tracks workplace injuries.

“The report also revealed a convoluted and ineffective system of injury reporting that allows companies to pressure workers, supervisors and medical professionals to underreport workplace injuries. Corporations cannot be allowed to continue practices that promote the illusion of safety by blaming workers instead of unsafe working conditions.

“Thousands of workers in America deal with workplace injuries everyday. This epidemic of suffering is damaging to the workers, their colleagues, their workplaces, and their families and the communities in which they live. American companies, especially those in the food processing industries, must stop contributing to this problem by pressuring and intimidating workers to keep silent about these problems.

“We must stop this epidemic – and it can’t be done without clear and accurate reporting of the injuries as they occur. Unfortunately, this GAO report makes clear current OSHA policies are centered on crunching numbers rather than getting the facts from workers. In fact, OSHA inspectors are not required to interview a single worker when auditing injury reports.

“Effective and comprehensive injury prevention must place workers and the worker voice at the center of the effort. Only when workers are meaningfully involved can we grasp the true scale of workplace injuries and implement meaningful regulations that make America’s workplaces safer.

“This report is a step in the right direction, and we’re glad that government is recognizing what the Charlotte Observer among others have already reported. However, now we must fix this problem. America’s corporations must be responsible and stop their deceptive reporting practices and better oversight and inspections by both federal and state OSHAs must ensure it.”

October 21, 2009

UFCW Occupational Safety and Health Office Recommendations to Local Unions on H1N1

UFCW Occupational Safety and Health Office Recommendations to Local Unions with retail members, re: 2009 H1N1 flu

The CDC has developed Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to the 2009-2010 Influenza Season. The new guidance currently applies to any flu virus circulating during the 2009-2010 flu season, not only 2009 H1N1 flu virus.

The CDC states: It will be very hard to tell if someone who is sick has 2009 H1N1 flu or seasonal flu.

The guidance recommends that employees with flu-like illness stay home at least 24 hours after they no longer have a fever (100 degrees F) or signs of a fever (have chills, feel very warm, have a flushed appearance, or are sweating).

Workers in retail food stores have a higher than normal exposure to the public, which may put them at higher risk of contracting the flu during the 2009-2010 flu season. In line with CDCs guidance, the UFCW agrees that employers should be taking steps now to:

  • “”Protect employees health and safety
  • Limit the negative impact to the community, economy and society, and
  • Minimize disruption to business activities.””The UFCW OSH Office is making the following recommendations for employers in the retail food industry to take, at a minimum, the following steps:

    1.Refer to CDC Guidelines and CDCs Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to the 2009-2010 Influenza Season. These are available on the CDC Web site: www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/business/guidance and www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/.

    2.Make the flu vaccine available at no cost to employees – and encourage employees to get vaccinated for seasonal flu. With pharmacies located in supermarkets, this can be done with minimal disruption during work hours.

    3.Create policies for flexible sick leave, which provides paid time for sick employees to stay home. CDC guidance advises employers to allow employees who get sick at work with the flu to go home as soon as possible, and to advise all employees to stay home if they are sick, until at least 24 hours after they no longer have a fever or signs of a fever.

    4.Provide resources to employees so they can be protected from infection: Provide tissues, no-touch trash cans, alcohol-based hand cleaner at the work station, time to use the restroom to wash hands frequently.

    5.Provide cleaning agents to cashiers to clean surfaces which are more likely to have frequent hand contact with the public.

October 20, 2009

UFCW Statement on OSHA Rulemaking on Combustible Dust

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), a union representing more than 1.3 million workers across North America, applauds the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) issuance of an Advance Notice of Public Rulemaking for combustible dust hazards in the workplace.

“”This notice is an important first step on the way to a permanent rule to ensure the safety of millions of American workers,”” said Jackie Nowell, Director of the UFCW’s Occupational Safety and Health Office. “”More than 900 workers have been killed or injured since 1980 because of combustible dust accidents. These are avoidable tragedies that must be stopped.”

The UFCW also urges OSHA to work quickly to issue a tough rule that will protect workers.

“”We can’t wait any longer,”” said Nowell, “”the time for a tough, comprehensive rule on combustible dust is now. We hope that employers, unions, and OSHA can work together to make this badly needed protection a reality.””

On February 19, 2008, immediately following the Imperial Sugar explosion in Port Wentworth, Ga. that killed 14 workers, the UFCW and  International Brotherhood of Teamsters petitioned the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to immediately issue an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) for combustible dust in general industry noting that “”workers who are employed in facilities where uncontrolled combustible dust emissions are present face ‘grave danger’ of experiencing fatalities or serious injuries as a result of dust explosions and resultant fires.””

This Advance Notice is the first step toward rulemaking since that time.


October 2, 2009

US Chemical Safety Board Fails to Recommend Safety Standards for American Workers

Savannah, GA—The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) today again criticized the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) for not recommending strong standards to prevent deadly explosions in food processing and other facilities that use natural gas.

The union reacted to the CSB’s safety bulletin on the deadly explosion at the ConAgra Slim Jim manufacturing facility in Garner, North Carolina the morning of June 9, 2009. The explosion killed three people, injured scores of others and severely damaged the plant.

“Once again the CSB has failed to take the most basic steps for the safety of American workers,” said Jackie Nowell, Occupational Safety and Health Director for the UFCW. “By not recommending urgent standards on fuel gas purging they leave the lives of thousands of workers at risk.”

The CSB failed to recommend changes in fire codes that would restrict the practice of purging gas piping and set criteria for performing it safely. While CSB Chairman John Bresland commended the state of North Carolina for their action to change their codes, unfortunately, the CSB did not recommend the same for national fire codes.

“If the CSB continues to fail America’s workers by not taking a stronger stand for safety, it’s time for change at the CSB,” said Nowell.

The UFCW represents more than 900 workers at the facility, and is the union for thousands of food processing workers in similar facilities nationwide.

September 24, 2009

US Chemical Safety Board Again Fails to Stand for Better Safety Rules for America’s Workers

Savannah, GA—Several international unions representing hundreds of thousands of chemical and food industry workers today again criticized the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) for not recommending strong standards to prevent deadly explosions in factories handling combustible dusts, despite the board’s prior endorsement of such a step.

The unions reacted to the CSB’s new report on the deadly sugar dust explosion on Feb. 7, 2008, at the Imperial Sugar refinery in Port Wentworth, Georgia. The explosion killed fourteen people, injured scores of others and severely damaged the plant.

“The Imperial Sugar tragedy is compelling evidence of the need for stricter OSHA regulation on combustible dust,” said Steve Sallman, Health and Safety Specialist from the United Steelworkers (USW). “Without a regulation, upper management will typically not commit the resources needed to achieve compliance, or, more importantly, to protect their employees.”

“As recently as 2006, the CSB recommended to the Congress that OSHA adopt a comprehensive new standard on combustible dust, but today they let that ball drop,” said Eric Frumin, Health and Safety Coordinator, Change to Win.

“”The CSB’s leadership is a remnant of the Bush administration’s dangerous legacy for America’s workers,”” said Jackie Nowell, Occupational Safety and Health Director for the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW). “If the Board continues to ignore its obligation to oversee the scope of our safety regulations, it will require new leadership to assure that its mission is accomplished.”

In a November 2006 report, the CSB pointed out serious deficiencies in OSHA’s various standards on combustible dust hazards. That report identified hundreds of combustible dust incidents over the last 25 years, causing nearly 120 deaths and hundreds more injuries.

On Feb. 19, 2008, immediately following the Imperial Sugar explosion, the UFCW and  International Brotherhood of Teamsters petitioned the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to immediately issue an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) for combustible dust in general industry noting that “workers who are employed in facilities where uncontrolled combustible dust emissions are present face ‘grave danger’ of experiencing fatalities or serious injuries as a result of dust explosions and resultant fires.”  To this date, no standard has been set to protect America’s workers.

September 1, 2009

UFCW, Partners Announce New Agenda Challenging Walmart to Change Practices for the Sake of the American Economy

Washington, DC – UFCW International Vice President and Director Pat O’Neill today announced a new national comprehensive American values-driven agenda to hold Walmart accountable to its workers, our communities and the planet.  He was joined by Nelson Lichtenstein, author of The Retail Revolution: How Walmart Created a Brave New World of Business, and Kim Bobo, Executive Director of Interfaith Worker Justice on a call to launch a broad coalition of labor, environmental and community groups who are calling on Walmart to join them in supporting the core American values of worker rights, quality jobs, equal opportunity, corporate responsibility and a healthy environment.

“Labor Day is an important time to reflect on the state of the American workplace and worker.  As the world’s largest retailer, and America’s number one private employer, Walmart has the largest, most profound impact on jobs and on our economy,” O’Neill said.  “Nobody wants an economy where workers earn wages that can’t support a family. Nobody wants an economy where people who go to work everyday and work hard have to turn to public assistance for basic needs.

“The Department of Labor last week released a report showing that the retail sector will see tremendous growth in the coming years, and it is up to all of us to determine what kinds of jobs those will be.  We are trying to engage Walmart, not isolate it.  With 1.4 million Americans working in its stores, Walmart bears a unique responsibility to its workers and our communities, and we’re asking them to embrace this challenge.”

On the conference call, O’Neill issued direct challenges to Walmart in five key areas:  worker rights, quality jobs, equal opportunity, corporate responsibility and a healthy environment.  He then laid out next steps for how the coalition, led by the UFCW, will hold Walmart accountable for those challenges, and to the ideals it puts forth in its advertising.

The full American Values Agenda for Change at Walmart can be viewed at http://www.wakeupwalmart.com/feature/commonsense/.

Additionally, Lichtenstein asserted Walmart’s vast impact on the American economy.

“When a company gets to be as big as Wal-Mart and employs so many workers – more than any other private enterprise in the world – it is no longer a ‘private’ entity,” Lichtenstein said. “It sets the wage and benefit standard for every other mass retailer and influences the business practices of just about every firm in America’s huge service sector. So Wal-Mart is part of this country’s debate: on health care, wages, equal employment, and the role of trade unionism in our democracy.”

Coalition members include:  AFL-CIO, Change to Win, Sierra Club, Campaign for America’s Future, National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, National Consumers League, AFSCME, American Rights at Work, Communications Workers of America, Interfaith Worker Justice, LIUNA, National Labor Coordinating Committee, Service Employees International Union, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, United Auto Workers, United Farmer Workers and United Steel Workers.

As a part of the launch of this important new campaign, WakeUpWalmart.com will be releasing two new television advertisements called “Common Sense Economics Rules”  calling on Walmart to offer quality, affordable health care coverage to all its employees. Both ads highlight Walmart’s failure to cover 700,000 of its employees, nearly half of its workforce. They end with the message “Walmart can afford to be a better employer; Now would be a good time to start.”

The ads can be viewed at:  http://www.wakeupwalmart.com/video/commonsense/.

June 18, 2009


WASHINGTON, DC – A horrific accident took the lives of three workers and injured 41 others in an explosion and roof collapse at the ConAgra Foods Inc. facility in Garner, North Carolina, on June 9, 2009.  The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 204 represents 900 workers in that facility.

The Chemical Safety Board is conducting an in-depth investigation into the fatal explosion.  Their work will be instrumental in determining the cause of this tragic accident that took the lives of three workers and injured many more.

Over the next several months, investigators will sift through the evidence, consult with Board members, and review regulations and industry practices. The investigators will draw lessons learned from the accident and make recommendations for corrective action to make sure it can’t happen again.

Workers who survived the explosion have been active participants in the investigation, giving detailed interviews, telling their stories about what happened June 9, 2009.

The UFCW supports this important work and are proud partners in their ongoing work to prevent workplace accidents.

June 12, 2009


WASHINGTON, DC – A horrific accident took the lives of three workers and injured 41 others in an explosion and roof collapse at the ConAgra Foods Inc. facility in Garner, North Carolina, on June 9, 2009.  The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 204 represents 900 workers in that facility.

The UFCW is working closely with the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, an independent federal agency, and the North Carolina Occupational Safety and Health Administration (NC-OSHA), as they investigate the accident. The UFCW is providing full assistance to help shed a light on the unfortunate event. In addition, the UFCW has established a fund to assist the victims of the tragic event.

“”The Garner incident is a heartbreaking tragedy that reminds us that worker safety is of the utmost importance in the workplace,”” said Jackie Nowell, UFCW Director of Occupational Safety and Health. “”We are working with the regulatory agencies and the company to ensure that such catastrophes are prevented.””

The UFCW believes that ConAgra is stepping up to the plate by continuing to pay the employees their full salaries, indefinitely. Such measures will bring the much needed comfort to the workers while they try to rebuild their livelihoods.

May 8, 2009

UFCW Statement on DOL Budget

“”The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) applauds the budget proposed by President Barack Obama’s administration for the Department of Labor. This budget – with its focus on enforcement of labor laws, safer workplaces, and helping unemployed Americans – prioritizes the needs of working families across the country. Importantly, the Obama administration has charted a path away from destructive pro-big business policies of the Bush era and towards a future where the needs of working Americans come first.

With this budget, the Department of Labor has returned to its mission of protecting America’s workers rather than serving the needs of corporate lobbyists, and high-dollar donors.

This budget provides for hundreds of new investigators to ensure that Americans are paid for their hard work, increased Occupational Safety and Health Administration funding so that they come home safe every day, and new funding for programs that help the unemployed find new work. We at the UFCW know that this budget is an important step to jump start our economy, and make work pay for every American.”