Musculoskeletal disorders in meat processing industry: a literature review

Musculoskeletal Disorders in Meat Processing: A re...
01 Dec 2006

This review of the peer-reviewed research literature was compiled as an output of the 2004-2006 COHFE project Addressing Work-related Musculoskeletal Disorders in Meat and Seafood Processing, conducted in collaboration with Massey University and funded jointly by the Health Research Council New Zealand, ACC and OSH.

The aims of this literature review on musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) in meat processing were to establish the current state of knowledge regarding risk factors, interventions, and barriers to their implementation. It is intended to give people working in the New Zealand meat industry insights into the strength of evidence behind the different current ideas on addressing MSD.

There are few conclusive scientific studies whose findings can be applied directly and confidently in industry. For example, the review reveals that while a lot of work has been done on biomechanical risk factors affecting the upper limbs, most of this has been done in laboratories - rather than in actual plants with all the other operational considerations. The results of these laboratory studies can be very conclusive therefore, but caution is needed when attempting to transfer the findings to the dynamic and complex conditions existing in a working plant.

Significant gaps in our knowledge are also highlighted. The review shows that although many authors have identified the suspected effectiveness of work organisation in moderating MSD risk factors, this strong call is not well supported by evidence; virtually no research has actually been done on the effectiveness of organisational level interventions that relates directly to the New Zealand meat industry.


The review material was drawn from searches of the following sources:

• Ergonomics Abstracts (database)

• Web of Science (database)

• Meat Industry Research Institute of New Zealand (MIRINZ) library catalogue (AgResearch, Ruakura Campus, Hamilton)

• ACC library catalogue (New Zealand)

• OSH library catalogue (Department of Labour, New Zealand)

• South Pacific Ergonomics Ltd (Auckland, New Zealand) archives.

Criteria used to determine inclusion of literature in this review are specified below:

• Content that was directly relevant to MSD risk factors in the red meat and seafood processing industry. Generic studies on MSD were excluded unless they were highly significant pieces of work.

• Peer reviewed material (journal papers, book chapters, conference papers, and reports from major research centres) were included in preference to: trade magazine articles, newspaper items, student assignments or personal communications on the same topics.

• Overseas material was restricted to publications since 1985. Pertinent New Zealand and Australian references are included, irrespective of date.

The initial literature search was conducted in August 2004 with a follow-up search in April-September 2006. Peer review of the draft was conducted by David Riley (Ergonomics Team Leader, Health and Safety Laboratory, UK).

The following factors limited the review:

• Differences in definitions and classifications between countries.

• Guides on MSD prevention (e.g. OSH, 1997) and major industry reports usually lack

referencing to their research evidence base, and so the strength of the scientific support for the recommendations made cannot be judged.

• The scientific papers commonly stopped short of discussing in full the implications of the findings for industry.

• Inconsistency and gaps in the literature. For example, the absence of a coherent set of robust and convincing evaluation studies with repeatable methodologies that demonstrate the effectiveness of the interventions promoted – in particular those relating to work organisation factors.

• Some highly relevant industry research carried out within individual companies remains unpublished for reasons of maintaining competitive advantage.

Page last modified: 15 Mar 2018