The average American male eats 6.9 ounces of meat per day and the average American female eats 4.4 ounces. To support the high demand of meat consumption an estimated 482,00 people work in meat and poultry processing and packing plants across the U.S.
Closer to home, Minnesota is the top turkey producing and the third highest pork producing state in the nation. Everyday Minnesota workers face on the job hazards to provide meat and poultry to society.
Reduced numbers don’t paint the full picture
Workers in the meat and poultry industry have a higher rate of workplace injuries than any other manufacturing field. A report from the Government Accountability Office found 151 workers died from workplace injuries from 2004-2013. Although the numbers indicate a reduction in workplace injuries over the last decade, worker advocates suspect underreporting by both the companies and their workers.
A culture of fear and limited options
Meat and poultry plants are often located in rural environments where jobs are scarce. Employees fear termination and downplay or underreport injuries sustained at work to protect their jobs. Immigrants and other at-risk minorities make up a large portion of plant workers. These workers face language barriers and may not understand their basic rights. On-site medical staff add to the problem by encouraging workers to work through the pain instead of seeking additional treatment or workers’ compensation.
Worksite injuries common to the processing industry
Meat and poultry plants credit steps to improve slaughterhouse and packing plant safety regulations with the reduction in worker injuries. However, workers still end up injured at an alarming rate. Common injuries for plant workers include:
- Unexpected amputation of limbs and fingers while cleaning or using machinery.
- Cuts and lacerations from knives and other cutting utensils.
- Respiratory diseases caused by the chemicals sprayed on the meat and airborne pathogens.
- Diseases from biological exposures, such as skin and gastrointestinal infections from any diseases the animals had.
- Noise-related hearing loss caused by the continuous loud sounds of the plant.
- Slips and falls resulting from wet floor surfaces and trip hazards.
- Repetitive motion injuries caused by repeated quick movements on the processing line.
- Constipation, pelvic floor dyssynergia and overdistention problems stemming from being denied bathroom breaks. Workers have even gone so far as to wear adult diapers while working.
The pervasive climate of fear inside the processing plants persists despite efforts to improve worker safety. Basic steps to prevent injuries include appropriate and functioning personal protective equipment, reasonable line times and training on biological and chemical hazards within the plant.
Untreated injuries can have lifelong consequences for the injury victim. Workers who suffered an on the job injury may wish to seek legal counsel for advice on how to obtain a just workers’ compensation settlement.