The Dangers of Working in Meat Packing Plants September 11, 2020
Workers in the meat packing industry perform a variety of tasks, including slaughtering, processing, packaging, and distributing meat. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), meat packers face several serious workplace hazards and suffer higher injury and fatality rates when compared to workers in other industries. Despite the treacherous nature of meat packing work, far too many employers still fail to implement effective safety and health standards, endangering nearly half a million Americans employed in the industry.
Frequently Reported Injuries
OSHA reports that meat packers are as much as three times more likely to be seriously injured than the average worker. In fact, the agency reports at least 17 “severe” injuries in meat packing plants across the country each month. Severe injuries include amputations, the loss of an eye, and any other injury that requires hospitalization. When it comes to amputations, OSHA says they happen at least two times per week. Many amputations involve the loss of fingers or fingertips, but in some cases they involve losing toes, hands, or arms.
In less than ten years, at least 151 meat packers died from injuries they sustained on the job. An investigation conducted by NPR suggests that the number of deaths and injuries may be even higher than we think. Meat packing plants sometimes fail to report or underreport when a sanitary worker (or someone who cleans machinery) is hurt or killed. Another consideration for underreporting is that on-site nurses and medical staff may try to dissuade an employee from leaving work and seeing a doctor to keep injury numbers down. Workers who are vulnerable due to language barriers or those who fear reporting their injuries because of documentation, like some refugees and immigrants, may also be largely unaccounted for in national numbers.
One of the most common causes behind injuries in the meat packing industry is the fast pace of line speeds. With faster production rates in place to quickly feed more than 315 million Americans, the fast pace can compromise a worker’s ability to safely perform tasks. Other culprits for injuries include:
- Workers have to lift thousands of pounds of meat total each day, which can result in a variety of serious musculoskeletal disorders, or MSDs. Workers can develop carpal tunnel syndrome, muscle or tendon strains, tendonitis, tension neck syndrome, thoracic outlet compression, rotator cuff tendonitis, and others
- Dangerous industrial equipment. Stories from workers injured by machinery are both widespread and devastating. Workers are frequently injured by cubing machines, rollers, vertical band saws, hydrolyzers, and vertical and horizontal grinders
- Repetitive motion injuries. Many workers sustain repetitive motion injuries associated with fast line speeds as well as while cutting or butchering meat
Protecting Workers and Preventing Injuries
Although meat packing injury rates have decreased slightly, too many workers have been killed or injured in the last 25 years simply as a result of going to work in an unsafe environment every day. Employers must provide a safe and healthful workplace and to address known hazards. Federal law requires that employers take steps to mitigate these risks. Some of OSHA’s common control methods for decreasing recognizable hazards are:
- Implementing an effective ergonomics program in order to improve rates of preventable musculoskeletal injuries
- Putting a hearing conservation program in place to limit auditory injuries
- Provide workers with personal protective equipment, or PPE
- Maintaining all walking and working surfaces to inhibit slip, trip, and fall rates
- Upholding stringent lockout/tagout procedures to prevent injuries associated with the unintentional start up of machines during routine maintenance
- Safeguarding dangerous equipment
When a worker gets hurt because of their employer’s failure to maintain a safe workplace, it may be time to consider filing a workers’ compensation claim. Workers’ compensation is a type of insurance that provides wage replacement and medical benefits to injured workers. If you work in the meat packing industry and you sustained injuries because of your employer’s failure to uphold their obligation of maintaining a safe working environment, someone at our firm can help. Contact a representative online now.
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