Meat and Poultry Worker Protections Needed
May 07, 2018
Killing animals and processing their bodies is one of the most difficult and dangerous jobs in the country. The General Accounting Office (GAO) issued a report in November 2017 about the state of safety and health for these workers. The report states that workers in these industries are faced with workplace safety concerns such as limited bathroom access, chemicals used at the plants that are not federally inspected for worker hazards, and that employees hesitate to make complaints because of fear of retribution. The GAO report recommended the conduction of offsite interviews so that workers could safely air their concerns.
Troubling OSHA Response
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), which sets and enforces workplace safety standards, rejected the GAO’s recommendations. OSHA responded that conducting offsite interviews is too challenging, and that it couldn’t commit to asking workers about bathroom access or hazards that were not obvious.
Two Democratic Senators, along with two Democratic representatives, sent a letter in late January to the Secretary of Labor, R. Alexander Acosta, asking him to commit to outside interviews. The letter from elected officials also calls OSHA’s response troubling. It notes that bathroom access issues in the industry are nothing new, with such problems dating back at least 20 years.
OSHA’s own standards address worker access in these industries to toilet and sanitary facilities and note that a free and open exchange is necessary between OSHA representatives and workers. OSHA standards allow interviews held at sites other than the workplace. The letter from legislators asks how OSHA’s rejection of the GAO recommendations does not undermine its own standards and its entire purpose. It asks if OSHA has reconsidered its position on these important workplace safety issues.
Meat and Poultry Worker Injury Rates
While meat and poultry worker injury rates have declined in recent years, they are still high compared to other manufacturing industries. Even though injury rates are lower, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that workers still face high rates of musculoskeletal disorders, pathogen and chemical exposure, and severe injuries from tools and machinery. The Department of Labor (DOL) does not have adequate data on these injuries because of workers’ fear of job loss should they report them.
Poultry and meatpacking employers underreport employee injury rates because they do not want to get hit with potential substantial fines. In 2014, an Alabama poultry processor was fined more than $100,000 by OSHA because of unsafe and abusive conditions. Even when the system works as designed, the DOL only receives data regarding workers who had to take days off due to injury. Many industry employees may develop work-related injuries that have them placed on restricted duties or put in another job.
Cherry Hill Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at DiTomaso Law Advocate for Injured Workers
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