Abattoir Operative

The Job and What's Involved

Abattoir operatives work in slaughterhouses. These may be part of a larger site that manufactures and produces meat and meat products for sale to retailers and butchers.

Abattoirs usually specialise in slaughtering sheep, cattle, pigs or poultry. Daily responsibilities vary depending on the type of abattoir, but may include:

  • Unloading, moving and controlling the animals when they are first brought to the abattoir.
  • Stunning the animals using electrical equipment or a mechanical device called a captive bolt stunner.
  • Humanely killing the animals, quickly, cleanly and painlessly while they are unconscious.
  • Moving the carcasses around the meat areas, without damaging the meat, and putting them on to a production line.
  • Washing and checking the carcasses for any signs of disease.
  • Removing some of the inedible parts of the carcass, such as the hooves.
  • Removing the skins of sheep and cattle, without damaging them.
  • Removing internal organs immediately after slaughter, and separating edible organs, such as livers, from the waste.
  • Using tools such as knives and saws to break up, split and de-bone carcasses.
  • Overseeing automated pig-processing equipment.
  • Working on an assembly line, especially in a poultry slaughter and processing site.
  • Cleaning floors, tools and equipment to high standards.
  • Packing the meat into cartons and processing by-products.
  • Loading the meat and meat products on to refrigerated lorries to be taken to retail outlets.

Abattoir operatives work alongside health and hygiene, and quality control inspectors. A government-approved vet also works on site to make sure the animals do not suffer and that the meat is fit for human consumption.

High standards of hygiene and cleanliness are essential in abattoirs. Operatives must follow strict procedures when storing the carcasses, handling the meat and disposing of waste products. They work quickly, as it is more hygienic. Strict health and safety rules must also be followed to avoid accidents caused by machinery or equipment.

Abattoir operatives work 37 to 40 hours a week, usually from 7.30am till 3.30pm. They may work a shift system and part-time work is sometimes available.

Working inside, areas are clean and must conform to strict government guidelines. Abattoirs can be smelly, cold (as parts of the building will be refrigerated) and wet, from washing down and cleaning.

The work involves a lot of standing, and using dangerous machinery and equipment. Protective clothing is provided which consists of a hat, overalls and rubber boots. Long hair must be tied back.

Salaries may start at around £10,500 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are abattoirs throughout the UK, generally in country areas. Over the last few years the number of abattoirs has declined significantly. Abattoirs are now far larger in size and handle greater numbers of livestock than in the past.

Employment prospects are good as consumer demand for meat products remains high. Due to the nature of the work, some companies find it difficult to recruit.

Vacancies may be advertised directly with abattoirs, in Jobcentre Plus offices and in local newspapers.

Education and Training

Abattoir operatives involved in killing animals must be at least 18 and licensed by the Meat Hygiene Service (MHS), an agency of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

There are no minimum entry qualifications for abattoir operatives. Some GCSE's/S grades in English and maths may be useful for people who want to progress to supervisory or management positions.

Some local colleges may offer:

  • BTEC/HND courses in science with a meat technology and management specialism.
  • An SQA National Award in Meat Supervisory Management.

Many young people start their training through an Apprenticeship scheme.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Anyone working on food preparation needs a food hygiene certificate. The Meat Training Council (MTC) offers a Foundation and Advanced Certificate in Meat and Poultry Hygiene. A number of training organisations, including Scottish Meat Training, offer foundation/elementary, intermediate and advanced diploma courses in food hygiene.

Training is on the job and covers:

  • Food hygiene procedures
  • Health and safety
  • Lifting and carrying techniques
  • Teamwork
  • Using tools and machinery
  • Special techniques like skinning and eviscerating (removing internal organs)

The Meat Training Council (MTC) offers various courses through approved centres, including:

  • Foundation Certificate in Meat and Poultry Hygiene.
  • NVQ/SVQ Levels 1 to 4 in Meat and Poultry Processing.
  • Intermediate or Advanced Diploma in Management.
  • Intermediate Certificate in Meat and Poultry.
  • Advanced Certificate in Meat and Poultry.

Successful completion of these courses can lead on to membership of The Worshipful Company of Butchers' Guild.

Working towards qualifications may involve attending a college or training centre on day release. Alternatively, a tutor or assessor from an approved training centre may visit workplaces to provide training and monitor candidates' development. There are approved centres offering MTC qualifications throughout the UK.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

An abattoir operative should:

  • Be physically fit and strong.
  • Be comfortable working with dead animals and waste products.
  • Be able to work well as part of a team.
  • Be able to work accurately and efficiently.
  • Follow the law relating to animal slaughter.
  • Have an awareness of food hygiene regulations and health and safety issues.

Your Long Term Prospects

Supervisory and management positions are available. With training and experience, it may be possible for an abattoir operative to train as a meat inspector, or move into training.

There are also opportunities to move into quality control, product development and related areas such as food marketing.

Get Further Information

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra),
Customer Contact Unit, Eastbury House,
30-34 Albert Embankment, London SE1 7TL
Tel: 0845 933 5577
Website: www.defra.gov.uk

Food Standards Agency, Aviation House,
125 Kingsway, London WC2B 6NH
Tel: 020 7276 8000
Website: www.food.gov.uk

Improve Ltd, Ground Floor, Providence House,
2 Innovation Close, Heslington, York YO10 5ZF
Tel: 0845 644 0448
Website: www.improveltd.co.uk

Meat Training Council (MTC), PO Box 141,
Winterhill House, Snowdon Drive, Milton Keynes MK6 1YY
Tel: 01908 231062
Website: www.meattraining.org.uk

Scottish Meat Training,
8/10 Needless Road, Perth PH2 0JW
Tel: 01738 637785
Website: www.meattraining.net

The Worshipful Company of Butchers,
Butchers' Hall, 87 Bartholomew Close, London EC1A 7EB
Tel: 020 7600 4106
Website: www.butchershall.com

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