Workers at meat and poultry plants suffer some of the highest rates of occupational injury. In his 1906 book, The Jungle, Upton Sinclair wrote of the occupational dangers within Chicago’s meat processing plants. A hundred years later, food processing plants still function as if human labor and lives are expendable.
Chicago is famous for the meat-packing industry. In Alabama, these plants are typically chicken processing plants. They are places that employ people at low wages and expose them to non-stop processes. You don’t need me to tell you that many of these plants have a shameful history of workplace injuries and deaths. The numerous news stories already tell that history. Too many of these plants view people as cheap and expendable labor. But, that’s NOT how we should value human lives.
Over the last twenty years, I’ve represented numerous workers injured in Alabama poultry plants. Shoulder, arm and hand injuries are rampant. The assembly line moves too fast for any human to work long-term without injury. Yet, it’s more than just rapid assembly line injuries. The lack of safety concern also produces many injuries from falls, forklifts, and heavy lifting without proper equipment.
Why am I again writing about poultry plant injuries? Just days ago, a worker at the Pilgrim’s Pride plant in Guntersville died from a workplace fall. According to reports, the worker fell from a material lift. You can read the news article at Al.com titled “Worker dies after fall at chicken plant with history of injuries.”
Across the United States, falls from heights are a leading cause of death in the workplace. I’ve written about occupational falls previously. I’ve tried man lift fall cases to juries, including one here in Huntsville. Typically, the evidence shows a company using lifts improperly and without proper supervision. Many of these companies require employees to work rapidly in dangerous processes without safety considerations. When something goes wrong, the same company then tries to blame the injured worker for his or her own accident. At poultry plants, the unsafe environment goes far beyond man lift and fall safety.
I’ve represented clients with work comp claims agains the Pilgrim’s Pride plant in Guntersville. These workers often suffered debilitated arms and shoulders from the non-stop assembly line. In my last case, the worker described how he reported to the nursing station many times asking for medical attention only to be ignored. I’ve written about plant first aid departments in several articles. These include one article where I asked: Do Plant Nurses Keep Workers From Receiving Workers’ Compensation Benefits?
You may think I’m picking on poultry plants. But, I feel strongly about the unsafe workplace environment which leads to frequent injuries. Why are injuries so common in poultry plants? It starts with a rapid, non-stop process that puts too much stress on any human trying to work. Then, you add the last few years where (1) poultry plants have successfully requested permission from the Department of Agriculture to INCREASE line speeds; and, (2) the number of OSHA inspectors has been reduced to levels that prevent valid inspections (the number is at a 40 year low). These factors greatly increase the danger of an already dangerous workplace.
Safety is an essential element for a strong, long-term, manufacturing base. Working men and women are the greatest asset in our economy. We should take the basic steps needed to provide a safe, working environment.
From its office in Huntsville, the Blackwell Law Firm represents injured people across Alabama. We have tried workers’ compensation cases to verdict in counties across the state. Outside court, we continue to advocate for safer workplaces, safer roads and safer products. If you would like to discuss a legal issue, let us know. We are happy to answer your questions.