In a study published earlier this week, researchers from Wake Forest School of Medicine draw broad conclusions from an extremely small sample size that poultry processing represents one occupation that predisposes employees to a rare dermatological condition known as pachydermodactyly.

Pachydermodactyly is a rare, benign, acquired form of digital fibromatosis, and the researchers state themselves that the cause of the condition is unknown, but infer it is caused by repeated mechanical injury of the skin.

Researchers looked at two individuals employed in the chicken industry, one as a catcher and one as a hanger, who on examination had marked lateral thickening of the digits, with associated pain and itching.  It is claimed the workers’ skin condition developed despite the use of protective gloves.

In a statement sent to Reuters Health, who was covering the study, NCC questioned the researchers’ broad conclusions and highlighted the tremendous progress the poultry industry has made in improving its worker safety record:

“The poultry industry constantly strives to improve the safety of our work environment for our employees.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, from 1994 through 2010, the OSHA Total Recordable Injury and Illness rate has decreased by 73 percent for poultry processing facilities; and contrary to what was reported in this study, the poultry industry’s illness and injury rate is well below all animal slaughter and processing and statistically the same as the rate for the entire food manufacturing sector.

“It is important to note that the occurrence of pachydermodactyly in only two individuals out of the entire poultry workforce indicates the condition is rare.  It is also important to not draw conclusions on such a small sample size especially since the cause of pachydermodactyly is unknown.  Without additional medical knowledge of the workers and their individual working conditions, drawing conclusions about the cause of this particular dermatological condition is unfounded.  Neither the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention nor the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health have made any correlations of this condition to a work-related repetitive motion or trauma case.

“While this particular dermatological condition is extremely rare, we look to obtain more information on the cases so we can use that information to help focus our efforts to continually improve worker safety,” the statement concluded.