Tyson Foods unveils plan for a safer workplace, hopes to improve on its record

by Kim Souza (ksouza@talkbusiness.net) 194 views 

Tyson Foods CEO Tom Hayes and his management team are pushing a new sustainability agenda throughout the meat giant’s operations and that includes a renewed commitment to providing a safer workplace in its production facilities.

“We believe sustainability is about continuous improvement and solutions that last, and this includes a healthier workplace,” said Noel White, chief operations officer at Tyson Foods. “We’ve always been committed to supporting our employees and have sound workplace practices in place, but also want to do better. That’s why we’re taking steps that include expanding training, improving workplace safety and compensation, increasing transparency and helping workers with life skills.”

Tyson expects to create a beneficial cycle of contributing to the future, while paying for itself in the present. Investments in sustainability are expected to fund themselves through reduced waste and costs. The company said it employs 114,000 workers and 95,000 of them work in Tyson’s food production facilities ranging from chicken, beef and pork slaughter to further-processing, food prep and pet food operations.

The new “better workplace” agenda includes a renewed commitment of zero worker injuries and illnesses, striving to achieve a 15% reduction in worker injuries and illnesses year-over-year. The company also wants to see zero turnover, striving for 10% improvement year-over-year across the company’s employment base. Tyson also plans to hire 25 additional poultry plant trainers to better facilitate training goals. Tyson said it has hired 260 trainers and 30 training coordinators for the poultry business since 2015.

The company also has vowed to share the results of third-party social compliance audits for Tyson plants with the public, providing more transparency into the processing operations. Tyson has had its share of workplace accidents which are on file with the National Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Tyson Foods’ poultry plant in Center, Texas was cited last summer by OSHA for numerous “serious” safety violations from lack of drainage in wet areas, tripping hazards for line workers, obstructed exits, workers not using protective equipment, lack of warning signage on catwalk, storage hazards, unguarded conveyor belts on four product lines creating a hazard for workers to get caught in the machine.

There were other violations regarding a lack of safeguards around machinery that could raise the risk for burns, workers using unregulated levels of compressed air when cleaning the equipment and improperly storing oxygen and fuel gas cylinders creating a fire hazard.

Tyson was fined $263,000 for the 15 serious and 2 repeat violations in the Center, Texas plant. The OSHA investigation resulted from a serious accident when a worker’s finger was amputated as he tried to remove chicken parts jammed in the conveyor belt which was was uncovered at the time. Tyson Foods said at the time it “fully cooperated” with OSHA’s inspection and intended to meet with officials from the administration to “resolve these claims.”

“We never want to see anyone hurt on the job, which is why we’re committed to continual improvement in our workplace safety efforts,” Tyson said last year. ”Our company employs almost 500 health and safety professionals who are involved in such areas as safety training, safety audits, ergonomics and health care. We also have programs and policies to help protect our employees.”

Also last summer, Tyson was cited for safety violations in two plants in Holcomb, Kansas. Tyson was fined $85,500 for two repeated violations, five serious and one other-than-serious infractions. The violations included excessive noise exposure and failure to install adequate machine guards around rotating shafts, provide eyewash stations and mark exit routes.

More recently Tyson reported an employee was run over and killed outside a plant in Kentucky. The employee was a truck driver and was struck by another truck as he entered the plant at 4 a.m. on April 15. Tyson is working with law enforcement to investigate what happened.

Often the serious accidents that occur in manufacturing involve amputations. OSHA received reports of more than 2,600 amputations nationwide, with 57% among manufacturing workers in 2015. In the first nine months of 2015, Tyson reported 34 plant accidents to OSHA. There were 17 amputations reported and four of those occurred in Tyson plants in Little Rock, Pine Bluff, Van Buren and Springdale. One of the more serious amputations involved the loss of both hands caught in an auger in St. Joseph, Mo. Two other serious injuries in the report involved an employee in Rogers that fell 32 feet off a roof and a worker in Holcomb, Kan., who broke his leg while learning to operate a forklift, as reported by Dr. Celeste Monforton, lecturer at Texas State University and the Milken Institute School of Public Health.

Tyson operates more than 400 facilities across the country and was recently saluted by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union who represents 24,000 of Tyson’s plant employees, primarily beef and pork processing.

“Tyson Foods’ commitment to worker safety and worker rights should not just be applauded – it should serve as a model for the rest of the industry,” said UFCW International President Marc Perrone. “Through our ongoing partnership with Tyson Foods, we have already made valuable progress. We look forward to these new and expanded initiatives and to continuing to work together to provide a better, safer workplace for the hard-working men and women at Tyson Foods.”

Safety experts say communication is an essential part of running safe plants and given than many of Tyson’s manufacturing workers are immigrant the company is working with the Cisneros Center on a program it calls Upward Academy. This program is designed to help immigrants with life skills, learn to speak and read English and also provide opportunities to complete high school General Equivalency Degree classes.

Nicolas Perilla of the Cisneros Center in Springdale said Tyson’s investment in workforce programs are good for business and the community. He said more companies should replicate this effort.

Hayes said Tyson will use its entire reach, capabilities and resources to drive positive change toward a solving for healthier food, healthier animals and a healthier workplace, without making tradeoffs in product quality.