There’s an inside joke among meat industry workers concerning the risks they face in the slaughter trade: That is killing whom — are we killing cattle, or are they killing us on the processing line?
That bit of dark humor was relayed by Jose Gaytan, a former meatpacking worker from Nebraska, That spoke at a telephone press conference held by worker advocates to discuss a report released Wednesday from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which found disease and injury rates on the decline, however additionally underreported.
Gaytan lasted three years on the task prior to the impact on his good health prevented him or her from continuing. “After hours, my hands would certainly swell up, and the pain never ever went away,” he said. “I saw a great deal of injuries from the job speed. Two times I saw saw operators cut off their fingers.”
Evaluations by the Centers for Illness Regulate and Prevention (CDC) and academic studies found the nation’s estimated 526,000 meat and poultry processing workers face hazards including tasks involving repetitive motion and prolonged status linked to musculoskeletal disorders, exposure to chemicals and pathogens, and traumatic injuries from machines and tools, the GAO said in its report.
The drive to sustain or improve production “pushes workers beyond their limits,” said Oliver Gottfried, senior advocacy adviser at Oxfam America, which recently issued a report that found the nation’s around 250,000 poultry workers are routinely denied bathroom breaks.
The GAO, an independent, nonpartisan agency, listed multiple challenges in compiling data, including workers fearful for their jobs reluctant to report injuries and illness, and employers financially encouraged to undercount those instances.
One former poultry plant employee offered anecdotal evidence of the former, saying he lost his task after injuring his right hand and shoulder at a Minnesota poultry processing plant.
“I went to a doctor, That said you cannot do the same degree of job you do right now, and he gave me a note to take to the company,” Omar Hassan told the advocacy call. “They told me you cannot bring us any kind of note from a medical doctor. I tried talking them in to placing me on light duty, and they said ‘no, we’ll let you go.’ They fired me for that.”
Additionally, the GAO noted the Department of Labor collects detailed data only for injuries and illnesses that result in workers taking time off work. It doesn’t compile data on meat and poultry sanitation workers That could not be classified in the industry if they job for outside contractors.
“In our outreach about the Southeast, we found a number of plants that use labor contractors as an intermediary to locate workers and distance themselves from their own workforce,” said Sarah Rich, a staff attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center. “The contracting model is becoming a lot more and a lot more widespread through American economy, and the poultry industry is no different.”
It employs “a pretty vulnerable workforce, including a great deal of immigrants,” Rich added, echoing the GAO’s findings that immigrants make up concerning 30 percent of the workforce.
Like its findings in 2005, the GAO’s latest report indicates meat and poultry processing workers “still face hazardous working conditions that put their good health in jeopardy,” Senator Patty Murray, D-Washington, told the telephone conference. In addition, some processors “could actually discourage their workers from reporting injuries,” she added.
While better compared to for manufacturing overall, rates of disease and injury in meat and poultry processing fell to an estimated 5.7 cases for each 100 full-time workers in 2013 from 9.8 in 2004, according to the GAO, which compiled its report at the request of three lawmakers, including Murray.
Trade groups touted the downward trend, which the National Chicken Council cited as evidence of ongoing improvement in worker safety, and the North American Meat Institute said the industry is “safer compared to ever.”
Other advocates pointed out the GAO had cast doubt on its estimates and dismissed industry claims.
“We need to have actually no assurance concerning industry’s assertions concerning their injury rates,”Celeste Monforton, an expert in occupational safety and health, said throughout the call. Administrations of very first aid do not have actually to be reported to regulators, and injured workers are regularly offered aspirin or hot compresses and “sent spine to the processing line,” said Monforton, a professorial lecturer at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health.
For instance, after a brand-new regulation increased the degree of reporting called for by companies, a look at Tyson Meals (TSN), the nation’s biggest poultry processor, found it had reported 34 instances of amputations or hospitalizations in a nine-month period starting Jan. 1, 2015, a figure that excludes 10 states in which Tyson operates however that run their own OSHA programs.
Tyson didn’t dispute this, however it did defend its safety efforts on behalf of its 113,000 workers, saying the company employs nearly 500 good health and safety professionals and had cut workers’ disease and injury rates by 12 percent over the past two years.
“If a group member gets hurt on the job, we require them to report it, regardless of exactly how minor they believe it to be,” said Gary Mickelson, a Tyson spokesman. “We job to stay away from injuries and illnesses. however if they happen, we want them detected early so they can easily be immediately addressed.”
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