Poultry industry refutes claims on worker safety

by Meat&Poultry Staff
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WASHINGTON – The National Chicken Council and US Poultry & Egg Association released a white paper that challenges claims made by the Southern Poverty Law Center and Alabama Appleseed Center for Law & Justice about poultry worker safety.

The SPLC and the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice released a report titled Unsafe at These Speeds: Alabama's Poultry Industry and its Disposable Workers. The document is based on interviews with 300 current and former Alabama poultry workers. In it the groups claim that poultry workers in Alabama are faced with dangerous working conditions and threats.

The group also argues that plans to implement a new poultry inspection system, in which company employees in most poultry slaughter facilities would be responsible for checking eviscerated carcasses, poses a major threat to consumer safety and will result in more injuries to workers.

But the poultry groups say such claims lack perspective. For example, the report states that injuries to poultry workers are more frequent for the private workforce as a whole, citing 2010 data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that the injury and illness rate for poultry processing workers is 5.9 percent compared to 3.5 percent for all private sector workers.

“The white paper provides more accurate approaches that should be taken to put the OSHA data in proper perspective,” the groups said. “First, a more accurate comparison would be to compare poultry workers to all manufacturing workers, who incurred injuries and illnesses at a 4.4 percent rate in 2011.

“It is also noteworthy to compare poultry processing's 5.8 percent rate to other industries and professions. For 2011, the BLS reported injury/illness rate for automobile manufacturing workers (NAICS code 3361) was 7.5 percent; for office furniture manufacturing (NAICS code 3372), 5.2 percent; for passenger airline workers (NAICS code 481112), 7.9 percent; and for state and local government workers, 5.7 percent. The poultry industry's injury and illness rates are in line with many other manufacturing industries.”

The groups refute other claims about worker safety, line speeds, unionization and other allegations made in the SPLC report.

"Perhaps more than any other industry, the poultry industry over the last several decades has focused its energies on the prevention of workplace injuries and illnesses, especially musculoskeletal disorders like carpal tunnel syndrome, by recognizing the value of implementing ergonomics principles," Tom Super, vice president of communications for the NCC, said when the SPLC report was released. "Companies also adhere to OSHA’s recommended guidelines that further help protect poultry workers."

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