The meat processing industry is an extremely hazardous occupation and one of the more common sources of on the job injuries we see. According to the Department of Labor, workers in meat processing plants are injured five times more frequently than all other private workers and nearly 20 times more likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome. However, studies suggest that the Labor Department’s data is likely skewed due to the large number of foreign-born meat processing workers and their reluctance to report workplace injuries due to fear of retaliation or deportation.

It is estimated that nearly 30% of meat-processing workers are foreign-born. Information collected by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) suggests that two-thirds of chicken processing employees will suffer significant work-related injuries.

Unfortunately, these incidents of injury within the chicken processing industry are likely to increase.

Recently, the Trump administration cleared the way for chicken processors to increase processing line speeds. Line speeds were capped at 140 birds per minute; however, the National Chicken Council recently lobbied and petitioned the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to increase the line speeds to 175 birds per minute. In January of 2018, the USDA announced that chicken processors could apply for waivers to increase the line speed from 140 birds per minute to 175.

Higher line speeds are cause for concern. The increase in line speeds applies to the automated portion of the slaughter process, called the evisceration line. Although the poultry industry contends the increase in line speed will not have an effect on worker safety, the data suggests otherwise.

At the 140 bird per minute line speed, workers perform the same repetitive motions 20 to 30 thousand times per daily shift. Often that repetitive motion requires workers to use knives to debone portions of the chicken. This increase will undoubtedly result in more injuries due to cuts, but also increases the risk of the employees developing carpal tunnel.

Unfortunately, the increase in poultry processing line speeds likely opens the door for other meat processing industries to experience similar increases. The Trump administration likely will relieve similar line speed restrictions amongst the pork processing industry as well. The USDA has proposed lifting caps on hog processing speeds, which are currently capped at 1,100 hogs an hour.

These changes are directly related to worker safety and will subject employees to more hazards. The meat processing industry is already an extremely hazardous occupation. More measures should be taken to ensure safe work environments. However, the Trump administration clearly values profits over worker safety. If you need more information contact Evan Allen, a lawyer in our Personal Injury & Products Liability Section. Evan handles work-related litigation involving serious injuries and deaths for the firm.

This story appears in the April 2020 issue of The Jere Beasley Report. For more like this, visit the Report online and subscribe.

Jere Beasley

Jere Beasley, the founding member of Beasley Allen Law Firm, has practiced law as an advocate for victims of wrongdoing since 1962. He was the lead Beasley Allen attorney in the record $11.9 billion award against ExxonMobil Corp. on behalf of the state of Alabama.

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