The Department of Labor (DOL) has officially weighed in on the poultry processing industry injuries that have been the focus of independent journalistic investigations, as well as an inquiry by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).
Last year, independent journalism non-profit ProPublica launched an investigation into the practices of the Arkansas-based Tyson foods, pulling back the curtain on questionable business practices, including lobbying against a judge who had made a series of workers’ compensation decisions favoring workers injured at Tyson.
Subsequent investigation revealed some workers are forced to wear diapers and restrict their consumption of liquid because they fear losing their jobs for something as seemingly benign as taking a bathroom break. Because the facilities are under-staffed, there is no one to fill in for the workers if they leave the line. Workers also reported being extremely reticent to report their work injuries, fearing they will lose their jobs.
As the DOL put it: “No one should have to work under these conditions.”
The agency said its standards on this issue are “very clear.” The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) mandates all employers ensure their workers have access to a sanitary restroom when and where needed. On top of that, employers cannot impose restrictions on the use of toilet facilities that are unreasonable. Forcing healthy adults to choose between wearing diapers and losing their jobs is not only humiliating, it’s a health hazard. Workers may be at risk for urinary tract infections and other problems as a result.
In addition to that, workers at these facilities are reportedly exposed to potential chemical hazards and biological dangers. There is also the threat to their hearing posed by high noise levels, slippery floors and equipment that is unsafe.
Those who work in the poultry industry are reportedly two times as likely to incur serious on-the-job injuries others who work in the private industry. They are also an astonishing seven times as likely to suffer a work-related illness.
With regard to injuries, they are reportedly at very high risk of suffering musculoskeletal injuries. These result from the kinds of repetitive motions they perform on the job. Severe wrist injuries and carpal tunnel syndrome is especially a concern, and these workers tend to develop those conditions at much higher rates than other workers in the private sector.
The DOL announced OSHA, one of its divisions, is now launching a regional effort to help combat these practices at facilities. The specific effort is being launched in the Midwest and throughout the Southeastern and Southern states.
OSHA further announced a series of actions poultry processing plans can take to help reduce the risk of injury and illness among workers. Those measures include:
Starting an ergonomics program;
- Beginning a hearing conservation initiative;
- Ensuring there are effective lockout/ tag-out programs;
- Guarding equipment that’s dangerous;
- Incorporating engineering controls;
- Keeping working and walking surfaces safe from debris and liquids to help prevent trips, slips and falls;
- Making sure to abide OSHA standards concerning no blockage or locking of exit doors.
And of course, 29 CFR 1910.141, which guarantees safe and sanitary access to restroom facilities, is essential.
If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.
Protecting the Safety and Health of Poultry-Processing Workers, July 21, 2016, By Dr. David Michaels, U.S. Department of Labor
More Blog Entries:
Analysis: Government Data on Slaughterhouse Work Injuries Incomplete, July 5, 2016, Asheville Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog