The potential for back injuries and respiratory disorders is high for poultry catchers. Many poultry companies in the United States contract out catching birds. Due to the transient nature of the catching crews there are no data indicating injuries or losses. Usually, catching crews are picked up and driven to the grower by company-owned truck. The crew members are either given or sold single use disposable respirators and disposable cotton gloves to protect their hands. Companies should make sure that respiratory protection is worn properly and that their crews have been properly medically evaluated and trained.
Each catch crew member must reach down and grab several struggling birds one after another and may be required to handle multiple birds at once. The birds are placed in a tray or drawer of a multi-bay module. The module holds several trays and is loaded by a company-owned fork-lift onto the bed of the company’s flat bed trailer. The fork-lift operator may either be the company’s truck driver or the contract crew leader. In either case, proper training and operation of the fork-lift must be assured. Speed and coordination are essential among the catching crew.
New methods of catching and loading have been experimented with in the US. One method being tried is a guided gatherer which has arms sweeping inwards guiding the chickens to a vacuum system. Attempts at automation to reduce the physical stresses and potential for respiratory exposure are a long way from success. Only the larger, more efficient poultry companies can afford the capital expenditures necessary to purchase and support such equipment.
A chicken’s normal body temperature is 42.2 °C. Consequently, the mortality rate increases in the winter and in locations where the summers are hot and humid. Both in the summer and winter, the flock must be transported as quickly as possible to be processed. In the summer, prior to processing, trailer loads of modules containing birds must be kept out of the sun and cooled with large fans. Dust, dried faecal matter and chicken feathers are often airborne as a result.
Throughout the entire processing of chicken, rigid sanitation requirements must be met. This means floors must be periodically and often washed down and debris, parts and fat removed. Conveyors and processing equipment must be accessible, washed down and sanitized also. Condensation must not be allowed to accumulate on ceilings and equipment over exposed chicken. It must be wiped down with long-handled sponge mops.
In the majority of the processing plant’s production areas, there is high noise exposure. Unguarded overhead radial blade fans circulate the air in the processing areas. Because of the sanitation requirements, guarded rotating equipment cannot be silenced for noise abatement purposes. An appropriate and well-run hearing conservation programme is necessary. Initial audiograms and annual audiograms should be given and periodic dosimetry should be performed to document exposure. Purchased processing equipment need to have as low an operating noise level as possible.
Particular care needs to be taken in educating and training the workforce. Workers must understand the full implications of exposure to noise and how to wear their hearing protection correctly.