Butchers prepare a variety of meat products, but safety needs to be the number one ingredient behind the meat counter.
When moving boxes of cut meats and carcasses, use proper handling techniques to prevent strains and sprains. Use carts and other lifting devices for heavy items. Lift with the legs while keeping your back straight. Hold the loads close to your body and make more frequent trips with lighter loads.
Place meat cuts on a work surface that allows you to work comfortably without overreaching or bending your back. You may need different surface heights for different tasks. Cutting, trimming, and packaging meat can be repetitive. Take frequent breaks during your work and set up your work layout to avoid twisting motions. A padded, non-slip floor surface or work mat can reduce fatigue while you stand, cut, and package. Placing a box or rail that you can rest a foot on while working can ease back fatigue.
Cutting and trimming meat pieces requires a sharp knife blade to prevent accidental slips and cuts. Sharp blades also reduce the need for extra force for cutting meats. An angled knife handle can help you keep your wrist straight while you cut. Wear mesh gloves, gauntlets, and/or an apron to protect your hands and body from punctures and cuts. Good gloves help insulate you from cold meats and keep the meat pieces from slipping out of your grip.
Powered meat processing equipment such as slicing and grinding machines can cause cuts, amputations, and even death. Make sure that these machines are properly guarded. Never remove the guards or disable the safety switches. Never push meat parts into the operating blades with your hands; use a tool. Never reach into a machine to clear a jam. Always use lockout/tagout procedures for maintenance, repairs, and clearing jammed product.
Meat bacteria and other animal-borne diseases can cause illness if you don’t use good sanitation and decontamination procedures. Consider plastic gloves that can fit securely over your bare hand or over protective gloves to reduce contact with raw meat. Wear coveralls to protect your skin and clothing. Decontaminate surfaces frequently throughout the day. Wash your hands between job tasks and before you take a break to eat or drink.
General working conditions for butchers are usually cold in order to keep meat products fresh. Make sure to wear layers. Take breaks to warm and rest your hands, which can fatigue faster with repetitive tasks in a cold environment. You may also be exposed to heat sources from barbecues, scalding water, or smokers. Use protective gloves and heat pads when handling hot foods and pans.
Make sure you have plenty of lighting to see your workspace and job tasks clearly. Water used for cleaning and disinfecting surfaces can cause slip hazards, so wear shoes with a non-slip sole. Clean-up standing water and place hazard signs when floors are wet. Inspect your work area frequently to ensure your tools, equipment, and facilities are in safe working condition. Get training in safe work techniques and proper operation of your tools and equipment.
Any way you slice it, safety for butchers is about training, inspections, and following safe work procedures.