Report Reveals that Slaughterhouse Injuries are Often Covered Up
July 27, 2017
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released a report, which criticizes the conditions under which employees in the meat industry work. According to new data, the meat industry is one of the most dangerous industries to work in, with employees sustaining a higher rate of injury than those in any other manufacturing industry.
Similarly concerning to the high rate of injury uncovered by the GAO’s data is that it appears the meat industry often covers up injuries or fails to report them at all. The GAO found that at various meatpacking plants across the country, if a worker is an immigrant or refugee, their at-work injury is less likely to be reported. Similarly, if an employee works for a third-party contractor, their injuries are not always documented.
In one case, the GAO found that a worker had visited a nurse at his place of employment 90 times for the same problem before being referred out to see a doctor for his continuing pain. Other instances of employers valuing profits over the health and wellbeing of their employees were found. The GAO also found that for immigrant or refugee employees who did not speak English that often no safety training in their own language was provided, putting them at serious risk for workplace injury.
In addition, a recent report conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found that at least one-third of workers at a poultry plant had hand injuries that met the definition for carpal tunnel syndrome, yet hardly any injuries of that type had been reported by the plant to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Workers in the meat industry face particular occupational risks that can result in injury. Oxfam, an international nonprofit that targets poverty, found that workers are often denied bathroom breaks and often work on such fast speed manufacturing lines that repetitive motion injuries –such as carpal tunnel syndrome – are commonplace. Some workers who were denied bathroom breaks reported that they actually wear adult diapers to work. Workers are also exposed to or work directly with industrial machinery, which carries serious safety risks without adequate guarding and training.
From 2004 to 2013, 151 poultry and meat workers died of fatal workplace injuries. If anything, that number is lower than the true amount of meat industry fatalities that occurred, because of the various reporting problems uncovered by the GAO.
Occupational health researchers and advocates across the country worry that if the meat industry continues to fail to report injuries that workers will be even more at risk and for more and more dangerous ones. In response, the safety director at the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) has said that reported meat industry injuries are at an all-time low. But, as we know, the number of reported injuries may not be the number of actual injuries.
Oxfam’s report urged the leading poultry companies in the country – Pilgrim’s, Perdue, Sanderson Farms and Tyson Foods — to immediately improve the working conditions for their poultry workers, leading by example for all other U.S. poultry and meat companies. The GAO’s report calls on the federal government to better collect data on the meat industry and to support worker safety. It is clear that vast improvements need to be made in the meat and poultry industry, with increased worker safety and transparent reporting being some of the first important changes to be made.
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