Wornick Foods Interdisciplinary Trip, May 4, 2022
Wornick Foods (which is part of Baxters Food Group) hosted an ERC student interdisciplinary field experience on May 4, 2022. They provided a site walk-through and shared the history of the company and significant aspects of their worker health and safety program. They also discussed some of the health and safety challenges that are uniquely related to the food industry.
Wornick Foods encourages ERC graduate students to apply for summer internships and possibly co-op experiences.
ERC students and faculty with the Wornick (Baxters) hosts
Written by Swade Barned
During the tour, the hosts shared details about the plant’s operations and some of the common health and safety hazards they have. One of the most common ergonomic hazards is repetitive hand/arm/torso motions. Throughout a typical eight-hour shift, employees may be located on an assembly line, where they are continuously reaching back and forth from a conveyer to place items into a bag. This creates repetitive motions, which increases risk for musculoskeletal disorders later in life.
Additionally, in certain parts of the site, noise was identified as a concern. The machines used to process and package several food products were noisy, which creates a risk of noise-induced hearing loss from repeated, longer exposures over time.
The hosts also identified that general health issues pose a risk in the factory. Due to the nature of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA), the employer cannot ask specific medical questions to employees, which means some health conditions may be unknown to the employer, which can lead to potential for health risks on-site.
The employers have worked to reduce risk of work-related injuries by addressing ergonomic and noise issues. They provide platforms for shorter employees to stand on to reduce musculoskeletal strain while working on the assembly line. However, the hosts stated they are still pursuing additional solutions to reduce the health risks related to repetitive motions. The noise risk is mitigated by the use of hearing protection (personal protective equipment) in areas in which the noise exceeds the required noise exposure limit.
The students would like to thank the ERC and our site hosts for this opportunity to broaden our educational horizons.
Written by Trevor Holtz
We had a very interesting and enlightening experience at the Wornick Foods plant where many ready-made meals, often used by soldiers employed in the US military, were being assembled for distribution.
A common type of injury, noted by our hosts, was the concern for muscular-skeletal injuries resulting from ergonomic problems in positioning and movement presented by working on the MRE assembly line. Since each packaged MRE contains a variety of products, employees are needed to sort through each product and ensure the quality of the final product. A challenge associated with this strategy is the height of the assembly line not meeting the height of each worker, often leading to bending and awkward positioning of the worker during their work which can result in musculoskeletal injuries. To address this issue, Wornick Foods implements flat platforms (designed to reduce fall risk) for employees shorter than the required height of the assembly line. In addition, Wornick Foods rotates some employees from one working position to another to prevent extended exposure to positions that present risks for musculoskeletal injuries while on the job.
Another concern, discussed by our hosts, was the risk for serious injuries which can be sustained by new employees who have not fully disclosed aspects of their health status which could place them at higher risk for injury. This has resulted in emergency scenarios which were attributed to chronic health conditions, which have not been regularly managed by a health care provider, such as diabetes. Another emergency situation which has occurred is a narcotic overdose in an employee who had current addiction issues. To address this concern, Wornick Foods implements emergency training in occupational health personnel and is currently considering naloxone training and supplies on-site to prepare for a narcotic overdose emergency.
I would like to thank our hosts for this enlightening field trip and UC staff for making this experience possible as well.