The area around St. Joseph, Missouri, relies on meat processing and packing. The industry provides the local region thousands of jobs, giving people and their families the money they need to live and thrive. However, the work in these plants is risky, with workplace injuries commonplace, and the need for workers’ compensation constantly occurring.
Now, lawmakers in Washington, D.C. are considering an increase to the line speeds in certain poultry processing plants, a change that would almost guarantee a sharp increase in worker injuries.
National Chicken Council Proposes Higher Line Speeds
On September 1, 2017, the National Chicken Council (NCC), a Congressional lobbying group for the chicken industry, sent a letter to Carmen Rottenberg, the acting head of the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). The letter urges the FSIS to create a waiver system for poultry processing plants that participate in both the New Poultry Inspection System and the Salmonella Initiative Program. Plants participating in these programs would be able to get a waiver that allowed them to increase line speeds from 140 birds per minute, up to 175 birds per minute. This new line speed is nearly 3 birds per second.
Higher Line Speeds Mean More Worker Injuries
Worker-conscious politicians in Congress are urging the FSIS to reject the proposal, largely relying on the fact that higher speeds mean more worker injuries.
According to the Government Accountability Organization, higher line speeds in poultry processing plants are directly linked to significantly higher rates of worker injuries and deaths. Despite the claims by the NCC that workplace injuries in poultry processing plants are down and at an all-time low, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) says that meat processing plants are still the 6th most dangerous places in America to work. The discrepancy between the NCC’s claims and the DOL’s statistics likely rests on the NCC’s reliance on figures reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) which, as we mentioned in a recent blog post, are unreliable and likely underreport the issue of workplace injuries.
Workplace Injuries at Meat Processing Plants are Serious
The injuries suffered by the workers in meat processing plants are severe, and often go unreported.
With workers standing shoulder to shoulder in stressful situations and wielding sharp knives, mistakes are bound to be made. Even the smallest of these can result in a serious cut or accidental finger amputation. The numbers provided by the BLS, despite being self-reported by the meat processing plants, themselves, show that poultry workers are hurt at rates nearly twice the national average, and that they get sick from their working conditions more than six times as often.
But these are only injuries that are reported by the workers who suffer them. Repetitive motions, like making the same cut on a processing line thousands of times in a single day, result in debilitating injuries over time. In the poultry processing industry, carpal tunnel syndrome impacts an estimated 42% of workers. These workers rarely report their injuries out of fear of being fired. Instead, they take unpaid leave in an attempt to recover.
Workers’ Compensation Attorneys in St. Joseph, Missouri
The personal injury and workers' compensation attorneys at the Smith Law Office in St. Joseph, Missouri, represent people who have been hurt while on the job. Contact us online or call our law office at (816) 875-9373 for the legal representation you need to get the care you deserve.