***For Immediate Release***
May 25, 2016
Contact, Jeff Sheldon
Communications Director, Nebraska Appleseed
(402) 438-8853 (office)
(402) 840-7289 (cell)
Government report confirms high injury rates in meat and poultry plants
Workers denied treatment, are punished for seeking medical care for chronic, crippling injuries
LINCOLN – For more than a decade, medical studies and reports have proven that workers in meatpacking and poultry plants face dangerous, systemic risks that result in alarming rates of severe and crippling repetitive motion injuries and abusive work environments. Today, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report, Additional Data Needed to Address Continued Hazards in the Meat and Poultry Industry, that gave added confirmation to this well-known data.
Eleven years after the GAO’s first report on the dangers of the meat and poultry industry, the GAO’s most recent report clearly demonstrates that workers continue to face perilous conditions that put them at great risk of permanent and debilitating injuries. Crippling repetitive motion injuries, exposure to harmful chemicals and pathogens, and traumatic injuries that lead to amputations are all the results of a dangerous work environment that meat and poultry workers must confront every day. The report also found that the high rates of injury documented by many organizations are significantly underreported because companies pressure and threaten workers who want to report an injury.
“It’s in our country’s best interest to ensure that the people who process our food work in a safe environment that treats them with dignity”, said Omaid Zabih, staff attorney for Nebraska Appleseed’s Immigrants & Communities Program. “We hope federal policymakers take a close look at this important report and realize the urgent need for clear and enforceable federal work speed protections that protects our nation’s meatpacking and poultry workers from suffering from devastating repetitive motion injuries.”
The GAO also confirmed what other recent reports have found; specifically that plants are denying injured workers access to sufficient medical treatment. The report refers to a number of occasions in which workers were punished for getting medical care from the plant, while others were ignored by the plant’s medical employees when they sought treatment.
Workers with injuries were also sent back to work on the processing line – no matter how serious the injury – so that companies could avoid reporting the injury. The report cites stories from workers who were denied medical treatment, only to find out later that they in fact had fractured bones.
Among its recommendations, the GAO urged the Department of Labor and OSHA to develop and implement a system to more accurately collect injury data – particularly musculoskeletal injuries – in the meat and poultry industry. The GAO also recommended a study into the causes of injuries that meat and poultry workers sustain, and how they are reported.
“The conditions that these workers are forced to endure is an outrage, and have no place in our nation,” U.S. Senator Bob Casey (Pennsylvania) said in a Wednesday morning release. “This is a matter of basic justice. The meat and poultry industry must quickly take substantial steps to improve the workplace conditions for those in this industry. The Department of Labor should immediately begin to implement GAO’s recommendations.”
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