Baehman Law

Slaughterhouses efficiency raises the risks for workers

Whether you call it a slaughterhouse or a meat-processing plant, working in the meat-packing industry is difficult, backbreaking and dangerous. It's also getting worse.

Increased efficiency often comes at the expense of worker safety. In most meat-packing plants, increased efficiency translates into a push to keep the line going at all costs and -- whenever possible -- move it along even faster. Speed may be an essential part of the job, but speed is also the enemy of safety.

In a recent report, one investigative journalist interviewed workers in meat-processing facilities in a half dozen different states. The stories workers told the journalist were similar. They talked about supervisors who humiliated or bullied them into working past the point of physical or mental exhaustion and injuries caused by the rate of speed at which they were forced to work. Many suffered from chronic pain caused by repetitive strain injuries. Others were violently maimed by the machinery or tools they used.

Data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) indicates that workers routinely suffer amputations and other injuries that require hospitalization. Many more injuries likely go unreported. Despite this fact, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is proposing changes that would eliminate speed constraints in the industry, starting with pork-processing plants. Cattle-processing plants are expected to be next.

Despite the expected hazards of the job and the proposed changes to the rules of operation, meat-processing workers still have a right to safe working conditions. When they're injured on the job, they also have a right to compensation. If you were seriously injured in an industrial accident at a meat-processing facility, talk to an attorney about your rights.

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