Canadian Packaging

Workplace protection in U.S. food plants not up to speed

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration rejects petition to create work speed protection for poultry and meatpacking workers.

March 19, 2015   by Canadian Packaging staff

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has formally refused a petition submitted in 2013 by the SPLC (Southern Poverty Law Center) and other civil rights organizations urging the agency to create work speed protections for poultry and meatpacking workers, who suffer high rates of severe and crippling repetitive motion injuries.

Workers enduring the rapid work speeds of these processing plants suffer high rates of musculoskeletal disorders, such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

In a letter received by the groups last week, OSHA says its denial was based on ‘limited resources’ that would prevent it from performing any necessary work to formulate safeguards for these types of workers.

“We are disappointed that OSHA has failed to step up and protect poultry and meatpacking workers from permanent, debilitating workplace injuries,” says SPLC staff attorney Sarah Rich. “The workers who prepare the food that so many of us eat should not have to sacrifice their health for a paycheck. They deserve better.”

OSHA is not denying the importance of the concerns of the SPLC.

OSHA noted in its letter that “the incidence rate of occupational illness cases, including musculoskeletal disorders, reported in the poultry industry in 2011 and 2012 has remained high—at more than five times the average for all U.S. industries.” It also noted that meatpacking workers “experience elevated rates of occupational injuries and illnesses.”

The OSHA letter notes that a number of ergonomic risk factors interact with cold temperatures to cause musculoskeletal disorders among meatpacking and poultry workers: the number of repetitions in a shift, the force needed to do a job, awkward postures and vibration.

It states that the comprehensive analysis needed to create new rules tailored for these industries is not possible because “the Agency’s limited resources do not allow for this comprehensive analysis and rulemaking effort.”

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