Food industry workers have higher risks of death, injury and illness

Friday, 26 June, 2015

US food industry workers have a 60% higher rate of occupational illness and injury compared to workers in non-food industries, according to a new report.

While occupational deaths are relatively rare, the risk in the food industry was 9.5 times higher than in other industries.

Severe injuries requiring time off work were more than twice as frequent in the food industry.

A study in the July issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, the official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM), has revealed that workers face significantly increased risks of illness, injury and death in every facet of the food industry except food service (which account for an estimated 59% of food industry jobs).

The study also lends insights into the causes of injuries in specific types of food industry jobs. For example, injuries due to slips, trips and falls were highest in the food processing, storage and retail steps — possibly related to the high use of refrigeration.

Using a ‘farm-to-table’ model, the study may help in targeting specific workplace hazards across the food industry, according to Kira L Newman, BA, of Emory University, Atlanta, and colleagues. They analysed US Bureau of Labor Statistics on occupational morbidity and mortality in food-related industries from 2008 to 2010.

The farm-to-table model framework considered five major food industry “pathways and processes”: food production, processing, distribution, storage and retail. Food system jobs accounted for an estimated 15% of all private industry jobs in the United States (excluding jobs involving transportation between steps).

The farm-to-table model has been widely used in studying food-related microbial risks and disease outbreaks. This approach can also be useful in understanding occupational injury, illness and deaths as “hidden costs” of the modern food industry, Newman and colleagues believe. They write, “Applying the farm-to-table model within occupational health ... can reshape the understanding of how market forces in the food industry may impact workers and consumers.”

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