Workers’ Rights in Meat Processing Plants

Delaware is known for its chicken industry, considering that Sussex County leads the country in the most chickens sold for food in the United States. However, the working conditions in poultry processing plants across the nation are less than desirable.

Hazards

Regular hazards include serious injury by machinery and health concerns from excessive chemical exposure at these processing plants. For example, a worker suffered a disfiguring amputation at a Tyson Foods plant in Texas – leading The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to conduct a full investigation. OSHA reported: “A gruesome employee injury led federal workplace safety inspectors to discover the nation’s largest meat and poultry processor endangered workers by exposing them to amputation hazards, high levels of carbon dioxide and peracetic acid without providing personal protective equipment.”

The full investigation cited Tyson for 15 serious health and safety violations, and two repeat violations.

Overall, the injury rate of poultry plant workers and other meatpacking jobs are over 50% higher than the national average - at 5% compared to 2.8% for private industry.

Employees at poultry processing plants are at high risk of sustaining musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) such as carpal tunnel syndrome, where muscles or tendons develop chronic pain, swelling, and numbness from overuse and repetition of strenuous motions.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a breakdown of specific hazards and diseases that are present in the meatpacking industry:

  • Skin Infections

  • Influenza

  • Gastrointestinal Infections (vomiting and diarrhea)

  • Pneumonia

  • Meningitis

  • Sepsis (blood infection).

  • Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA).

  • Brucellosis - a bacterial infection with symptoms ranging from fever, mild headaches, muscle aches and rash to severe diarrhea and vomiting.

  • Q Fever - a bacterial infection caused by Coxiella burnetii from exposure to infected animals. Symptoms include fever, headache, muscle aches and cough.

More Processing, More Risk

Amid the Coronavirus Pandemic, the USDA has issued 15 waivers to meat processing plants, just in the month of April. The waivers allow an increase of birds processed per minute – from 140 to 175. Faster processing means current employees are working closer together, additional employees may be hired, and the risk of serious injury increases.

You can read more about related legislation here.

Kimmel, Carter, Roman, Peltz & O’Neill has proudly represented Delaware workers for nearly 50 years. If you have been injured in a work accident, our experienced attorneys are here to help. For a free consultation, call 302-565-6100.

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