Food Manufacturing Workers typically handle food on a mass scale that moves along conveyor belts in a clean working area. The process usually begins with raw materials and ends with the food cut, prepared, cooked, baked or assembled before being packaged at the other end of the conveyor. While some workers oversee handling food directly, others perform other duties like maintaining a clean working environment, adjusting the speed of the conveyor belt, and managing the food processing machinery.
Food Manufacturing Workers are expected to demonstrate high skills of dexterity (complex hand movements) and have a comprehensive understanding of food storage and working quickly together in a team. Basic job skills include:
- Maintain quality control by continuously monitoring temperatures using thermometers
- Processing orders to be cooked, baked, assembled and packaged for delivery
- Operate machinery
- Maintain ongoing sanitation in a clean environment
Hazards in the Workplace
To maintain a clean and sanitary environment in the food processing plant is essential to prevent foodborne illnesses while maintaining food safety. To maintain a clean atmosphere, the plant must use chemical detergents, soaps, disinfectants, and sanitizers on a routine basis to kill off unwanted microorganisms and create a barrier against other contaminants. While these chemicals and toxic substances are vital to the success of the plant in the safety of the employees, any ongoing exposure can be extremely hazardous to health. Even though the food processing worker must use the chemicals, the employee needs to understand the products’ hazardous nature to protect their health and well-being.
Working with Toxic Chemicals
The workers who handle food each day are not usually the same individuals sanitizing the environment handling disinfectants and chemical agents to sterilize the environment. Their duties typically include:
- Cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting surfaces using chemicals that destroy microorganisms including fungi, viruses, and bacteria;
- Handling dangerous chemicals in a way to avoid a corrosive reaction to the equipment that could damage metals and organic compounds and inadvertently destroy living tissue;
- Deluding concentrated forms of disinfectant and sanitizers that are packaged as a granulated solid or loose powder that is made into a slurry,
- Storing toxic chemicals in an area that provides easy inspection of the container to check for any corrosive activity that could spill the concentrated hazardous material into the work environment.
Manually Handling Food
Workers who are hired to handle food during the processing and packaging of products manually are required to use a variety of forces including lifting, moving, lowering, pulling, pushing, carrying, or holding the food being processed. These actions often require repetitive motion where the same activity is performed with minor variation every 5 to 10 seconds. Unfortunately, this kind of activity can cause injury through repetition or overexertion of the same muscles and nerves. More than one out of every three workplace injuries involving food manufacturing workers is caused by lowering/lifting overexertion and repetitive motion. These injuries tend to harm the back, hands, wrists, shoulders, arms, and neck.
Most food manufacturing plants use machines to produce packaged beverages and food. The moving parts of the machinery are known to cause significant injuries including crushed hands and fingers, blindness, burns, and amputation. Providing worker protection is crucial to avoid serious injuries.
Typically, there are distinct fundamental problems in a food manufacturing plant where the most injuries occur. This problems happen in areas that have a machine with moving parts, those that transmit power and the point of operation. To ensure that workers are protected from serious hazards associated with machine B, the employer must provide safeguards that restrict body parts getting close to any machine’s moving components.
The employer must design the safeguard to keep everyone secure in a way that the protection cannot be removed or tampered. The worker must be assured that any object falling into the machine can not injure them and that the machinery can be safely lubricated without the need to remove the safeguard or impede the employee.
Working in a Confined Space
Many food manufacturing plants store vast amounts of food products in storage bins, hoppers, mixing vats, tanks, and silos. Unfortunately, many fatalities associated with the food processing injury occur in confined spaces when workers are caught in areas where rescue attempts are futile.
For the employee to avoid serious risks to injury or death, the employer must take significant measures to safeguard the worker from entering an obvious confined space and train the employee how to recognize the hazards associated with working or entering those areas. Typically, these areas in the plant are identified as a place that has a restricted way to enter or exit or any place in the facility that is not designed for continuous occupancy.
The success or failure of a food manufacturing plant is often dependent on powered equipment including conveyor belts, lift trucks, forklifts, and powered industrial machines. This equipment is used to transport the plant's raw materials and finished packaged products to be loaded on trucks and transported to distributors and suppliers.
However, much of this equipment is heavy and dangerous when something goes wrong. Accidents happen when workers fall off or are struck by a forklift, being exposed to carbon monoxide from the machinery’s emissions, or crushed by materials falling off a forklift or high shelf that was not secured properly.
Food Processing Worker’s Wages
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics for the year 2016, involving employment statistics of the previous year, there were 43,070 food processing workers in the United States and $12.40 an hour, or $25,800 a year. In the Chicago metropolitan area, food processing workers earned $11.70 per hour, or $24,350 annually, on average. These earning wages are significantly higher than the national averages. See Chart
Food Manufacturing Plant Fatalities and Injuries
Each year, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) adds new restrictions, guidelines and policies on how to maintain safety in the workplace. Unfortunately, fatalities and injuries still occur in food manufacturing plants. Some egregious cases in the last few years include:
- Case 1: Oak Creek Wisconsin – A temporary food manufacturing worker required surgery after catching her hand in a packaging machine. In July 2015, a 30-year-old food processing worker on temporary employment in a frozen bread manufacturing plant underwent extensive surgery to care for lacerations and burns of ligaments and tendons on the right hand. The employee had been working on a ‘cutting and sealing’ machine that supplied items for a variety of consumers through retailers including Piggly Wiggly, IGA, and Costco. OSHA inspectors identified the food distributor as responsible for the accident because they ignored “safety requirements to protect workers from moving machine parts.”
- Case 2: Austin, Texas – OSHA cited a frozen food processing manufacturer in Austin Texas for exposing employees to hazardous chemicals. Food manufacturer Michael Angelo’s Gourmet Foods, Inc. was cited by OSHA “for six serious safety violations of the agency’s processed safety management standard. The company exposed workers to chemical hazards and an ammonia release in July 2013 at its plant in Austin. Proposed penalties totaled $42,000.” OSHA Director in Austin, Casey Perkins stated that “a process safety management program is meant to anticipate and plan for an array of failures that could cause the release of hazardous chemicals. Given the multiple deficiencies in this program, it is fortunate no serious injuries resulted.”
- Case 3: Fairmont, West Virginia – A local food manufacturer was sued by the US Department of Labor after the owner “terminated an employee who tried to call 911 after a co-worker suffered amputation.” In July 2014, a worker “severed part of his thumb” while working as a “food processor at a beach or key manufacturing plant.” A coworker “acted quickly, helping him apply pressure to the wound and using her cell phone call 911. Before responders could answer, the company’s owner ordered her to hang up. Two days later, she was terminated.” The Department of Labor “filed a lawsuit against Lone Star and [the owner] seeking back wages and punitive damages [on behalf of] the terminated employee.”
- Case 4: Atlanta, Georgia – A popular frozen food manufacturer in Georgia response to OSHA’s discovery of continued safety violations. OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) inspectors “return to an Atlanta food manufacturing facility and found previously cited hazards had reoccurred, the management of Schwan’s Global Supply Inc. took an unusual step.” The company “except the responsibility for the safety and health hazards and signed a pre-citation settlement agreement with OSHA on January 15.” OSHA stated that the previous citations include:
- “Ensure workers use safety procedures to prevent unexpected machine startup during maintenance and servicing.
- Ensure machinery was properly guarded.
- Implement safety procedures for the ammonia refrigeration systems.”
- “Develop written emergency shutdown procedures for the refrigeration system.
- Train workers, technicians and first responders on emergency action plans or responder’s duties for refrigerant spills at the facility.”
- Case 5: Jersey City, New Jersey – OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) initiated “an inspection on December 27, 2015, after the Jersey City Police Department notified the agency of a worker’s death at the company’s Jersey City food distribution warehouse. Inspectors found a sixty-year-old warehouse supervisor died after falling 24 feet from a top-tier warehouse rack. Inspectors learn that the company knowingly allowed a forklift to elevate employees on pallets as they conducted inventory.” The citation involved the “willful violation for its failure to use an unapproved platform for raising employees on a forklift, and failure to provide fall protection. Hazard communication training deficiencies resulted in the repeat citation” from February 2011.”
- Case 6: Newark, Ohio – A manufacturer of non-GMO food additives was fined $180,000 after an explosion and fire that injured four workers. OSHA determined that the “Newark food additive manufacturer’s failure to handle hazardous materials and respond properly to an emergency lead to an explosion that injured four workers, including two contractors who scale an eight-foot security fence topped with triple-strand barbed wire to escape the fireball.” After the investigation, it was determined that the company had failed to:
- “Designate sufficient egress routes.
- Develop operational procedures to maintain the ongoing integrity of the equipment.
- Develop procedures to prevent inadvertent start-up or release of stored energy.
- Document inspections and maintenance.
- Follow standard operating procedures.
- Review operating procedures annually. Develop procedures for starting up the system after a turnaround."
- “Install handrails on stairs.
- In close or guard electrical equipment.”
The exposure to chemicals, the risk of falling, the dangers of working around heavy machinery, and the perils of working in a confined space are all significant hazards of a food manufacturing worker. Without proper training and equipment, and sufficient safeguards put in place by the employer, the worker can be in grave danger of suffering serious injuries or death. Some injured workers and surviving family members have taken the next step and hired personal injury attorneys to handle compensation cases and lawsuits against employers and others who caused their damages, injuries, harm or the death of a loved one.
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Our law firm assists injured Food Manufacturing Workers to ensure they get compensation under the IL Worker’s Compensation Act and through civil lawsuits. We provide Free Case Reviews and a No-Win/No Fee guarantee.
If you were injured in a job-related accident or suffered an illness or exposure, you are likely entitled to receive workers compensation. However, our legal team can help you determine if you are also entitled to receive additional monetary recovery from third parties as well. Our lawyers will do everything possible to ensure you receive maximum value for your claim. Our work includes exploring every legal option including how to prove a third party personal injury case. While you might be limited in the amount your family can receive through worker’s compensation, a personal injury claim for monetary recovery has no limit.
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