New rules likely to increase worker injuries in pig slaughterhouses

In an already dangerous industry, relaxation of regulation increases risks of injury and illness.

According to the National Pork Board’s Pork Checkoff 2018 data, Pennsylvania ranked 12th of all states in pork production. High production is likely to continue, given recent loans at generous terms to large pork operations from the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority, says FarmProgress.

Pork industry deregulation

This rapid growth comes at a time when the federal government is deregulating the industry. USDA regulations are soon to become final that will remove speed limits for pork slaughterhouse operations. It will also reduce federal government inspectors on lines adopting the new rules by 40%, with the responsibility for inspection going largely back to the meat-production companies themselves.

Many worker-safety advocates are expressing concern for the likelihood of increased danger to line workers when these new standards take effect. The industry is already hazardous, causing severe physical and mental stress. Work involves heavy equipment, sharp tools, repetitive motions, heavy lifting, biological risk, extreme temperatures, dangerous chemicals (antimicrobials like peracetic acid or PAA) and other risky conditions and duties.

Production line risks

According to a recent study by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the Guardian, meat plant workers in the U.S. are three times more likely to “suffer serious harm than the average American worker, with pork and beef workers nearly seven times more likely to suffer repetitive strain injuries.”

Injuries and illnesses can cause permanent injury, including chronic pain and numbness. Some of the common injuries, symptoms and illnesses related to slaughterhouse work:

  • Finger fractures
  • Head trauma
  • Amputations
  • Serious burns
  • Respiratory problems
  • Carpel tunnel syndrome
  • Tendinitis
  • Musculoskeletal disorders or MSD
  • Cuts and lacerations
  • Eye loss
  • Nerve damage
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon (chronic hand numbness, weakness and pain)
  • Death

Human Rights Watch recently released an in-depth study of the meatpacking industry. It found that an average of eight workers in the broader meatpacking industry die each year in the U.S. HRW also says that some slaughterhouse employees report that management restricts bathroom access, causing some workers to need diapers, as well as other humiliating treatment like verbal insults. Understaffing also increases risk.

What to do if you are injured at work or ill from slaughterhouse conditions

Of course, seek medical care and give notice to your employer as soon as possible. Normally, workers’ compensation is the only legal remedy for workplace injury or occupational disease, so filing a claim is important. An attorney can assist with the application or if your claim is denied or seems inadequate, there are options for review and appeal. Legal counsel can provide information, advice and representation at all stages of the workers’ compensation process. In addition, a lawyer can assess whether a third-party lawsuit is possible such as if a manufacturer provided a dangerously designed machine.

The lawyers at Pfeiffer Brown DiNicola & Frantz with offices in Pottsville and Valley View, Pennsylvania, represent injured workers in workers’ compensation claims and associated third-party lawsuits throughout the surrounding communities.