The Chicago Occupational Accident Attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers Represent Injured Slaughterhouse Workers
Butchers, meat packers, and slaughterhouse workers perform precision preparation of beef, poultry, pork, and other meats. Their tasks usually involve slaughtering, cutting, trimming, making sausages, and other processes. Nearly all parts of the production require manual labor where some workers slaughter and bleed the animal while other employees use knives and other cutting tools to cut and separate muscle from bone and fat.
The process of how animals are slaughtered in the processing plant is a major contributing factor to the number of injuries worker sustain. Most meat processing and packing companies work nonstop 24/7 where hundreds of large animals and thousands of small animals are processed every hour. To maintain a tight scheduled output, the food processing plant relies heavily on the use of a mechanized system that requires butchers and slaughterhouse workers to perform repetitive motions and a clipping pace.
A Dangerous Work Environment
Most of the work done in the facility is performed by hand due to the irregular weights and sizes of animals. Additionally, many slaughterhouse workers, butchers and meat packers are subjected to serious, life-threatening hazards that include bodily injury, and exposure to infection and respiratory illnesses. The exposure to microorganisms and antibiotic-resistant bacteria can cause potentially deadly outcomes for the worker as can malfunctioning equipment or cut and trim mistakes that result in a loss of a limb or finger.
Due to the specific characteristics of the occupation, meat processors and slaughterers have a high incident rate of serious injuries and illnesses. Working conditions are often deplorable where the employee must perform repetitive duties for hours on end causing mental and physical fatigue. Some of the most problematic hazards include:
- Chemical Exposure – Slaughterhouse Workers are routinely exposed to ammonia and chlorine fumes and other airborne contaminants known to cause serious respiratory illnesses. Proper air sampling tests and methods do not exist to identify excessive levels of harmful byproducts that develop in processing plants in slaughterhouses.
- Severe Cuts and Amputation – Operating the machinery and keeping the processing line sanitize, carries the potential risk of receiving severe cuts or having limbs and fingers amputated.
- Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSD) – Most workers in slaughterhouses perform repetitive routines under challenging conditions that include excessive force, awkward postures, and vibrating machinery. Many of these kinds of injuries develop gradually until they disable or debilitate the worker. Symptoms associated with MSD include carpal tunnel syndrome along with tingling and numbness in the neck, shoulders, back, wrists, hands, and fingers. At best, MDS symptoms will involve tissue inflammation, pain, and muscle sprains and strains.
- Slip and Falls – The slick floors of a slaughterhouse our covered with animal fats, blood and body fluids that can create an ideal environment for slipping and falling.
- Anti-Biotic Resistant Infection – Many animals that were are grown for slaughter are treated with heavy antibiotics and can develop a high resistance to many common bacteria. When the worker is exposed to the highly resistant bacterium, they can develop a life-threatening infection.
- Life-Threatening Diseases – Workers are often exposed to a variety of diseases including campylobacter, salmonella, Swine Brain Disease (progressive inflammatory neuropathy) and Yersinia Entercolitica.
- Ergonomic Hazards – Working long hours in awkward positions using repetitive motion without proper PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), gear and tools can create ergonomic hazards that are easily preventable. Reducing exposure to excessive noise and using sharp knives while working in a more conducive posture can prevent many of the hazards associated with poor work practices.
In many incidents, the slaughterhouse workers and butchers fail to report injuries out of fear of reprisal in losing their job. The excessive long hours performing backbreaking labor is often underappreciated from management for the workers who are attempting to make a living at or below the poverty level. To make matters worse, many slaughterers experience psychological problems along with their chronic physical ailments for observing and participating in the killing of animals that are immediately dismembered.
Additionally, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) released information in 2014 revealing all micro-tasks can cause repetitive motion injuries for pork and beef processing employees at a rate of more than seven times that of other workers in private industries.
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
The amount of time it takes for the animal reaching the front door of the slaughterhouse to be processed and packaged averages approximately nineteen minutes. Each of the animal's parts will be processed and transferred out of the facility as edible meat and usable fats. Other edible parts are sold for dog food. The animal's skin is a useful and profitable byproduct that can be transformed into leather. The bile is sold to pharmaceutical companies.
Watching thousands of sentient animals die every week takes an emotional and psychological toll on many workers who often, over time, develop PTSD (Posttraumatic stress disorder). In many incidences, the worker is never provided any form of emotional assistance or therapy which can take it heavy toll on the employee's mental health leaving a lifelong emotional scar.
According to the PTSD Journal, slaughterhouse workers are expected to kill animals and perform work that disconnects or disassociates their actions from the creature that once stood and breathed before them. Research shows that workers develop an emotional dissonance that can result in life-changing consequences including alcohol and drug abuse, PTSD, social withdrawal, and domestic violence.
Slaughterhouse Workers' Wages
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics 2016, data concerning the employment statistics of the previous year, 2050 Slaughterhouse Workers were employed in the Chicago, Naperville and Arlington Heights metropolitan area. On average, Slaughterhouse Workers in northeastern Illinois earn $28,940 every year (mean wage), which is $13.91 per hour. The wage is slightly higher than the national averages. See Chart
Violence in the Workplace
OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and other federal agencies have determined that there is a correlation between working in a slaughterhouse and the heightened arrest rate of employees. A 2009 study revealed that the crime incident rate among slaughterhouse workers, butchers and meat processors was significantly higher for violent crimes, sex offenses, and rate. Many researchers believe the high crime incident rate is the result of “desensitization" caused by the active personal killing of hundreds of animals every hour.
Fresno, California – A November 2012, a Fresno slaughterhouse employee gunned down four co-workers (two co-workers died execution style) before the gunman attempted to take his own life. Before the incident occurred, coworkers would have described the employee as “respectful" and “nice," claiming his actions created a conundrum as to why he chose to perform the random act of horror in the slaughterhouse.
Staying Safe in the Slaughterhouse
Workers in slaughterhouses and meatpacking processing plants can take certain steps to itemize the potential hazards that are exposed to every day on the job. Many of the potential hazards in their work environment involve dangerous machinery including bone splitters, head splitters, jaw pullers, snout pullers, and other equipment including cleavers, bandsaws, and knives. These tools pose significant health hazards at various stages of processing the animal's carcass. Employers are encouraged to provide every worker various protective measures to ensure their health and safety. Some of these measures include:
- Installing Guardrails – Using guardrails provides a protective barrier against an accidental fall. In many slaughterhouses, employees are exposed to the open surface on a dip tank that sterilizes equipment.
- Maintaining Protective Wiring – The site maintenance crew should periodically check the electric wiring to identify defects, fraying and cracking. Every piece of electrical equipment in the facility should be grounded to avoid the potential for electrocution or electrical shock.
- Maintaining Floor Surfaces – In addition to the employees wearing non-skid shoes, all flooring surfaces at the slaughterhouse should have non-skid material, or the worker should be provided rubberized cushion floor mats in any part of the facility where power tools and hand knives are used. Cleaning up any spilled grease, liquids, blood or other watery substances immediately can minimize the potential for a slip and fall injury.
- Machine and Equipment Guarding – The meat processing plant in slaughterhouse use of a variety of equipment and tools to keep the flow of production moving. Employees routinely worked with Hooks, conveyor belts and shackles that must be repaired occasionally. Any defective equipment can pose a significant health hazard. Guards can help minimize injury when the workers follow tag-out and lock-out procedures.
- Install Local Exhaust Ventilation – Workers are often exposed to airborne particulates and contaminants that must be removed using a local exhaust ventilation system. Early capture minimizes the potential of contaminating the entire workplace environment.
- Install General Exhaust Ventilation – A general ventilation system can dilute concentrations of harmful air contaminants to minimize their hazards to employees. These systems might involve roof ventilators, fans, and opened doors and windows to dilute highly contaminated air without recirculating the pollutants and impurities back into the workplace.
- Initiated Administrative Controls – The owner, manager, and the supervisor can assist in enforcing policies and procedures that minimize the potential dangerous risk of serious injuries. These injuries could include exposure to toxic substances, shoulder and back injuries, and carpal tunnel syndrome caused by repetitive motion. An effective administrative control can minimize work periods where the employee is required to work with excessive repetitive bending, lifting, squatting, and wrist turning and bending.
- Follow Defective Work Practices – OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) provides a variety of safe work hazards in slaughterhouses and meat processing plants that are known to maintain a healthy and safe work environment.
- Provide PPE – Employer should provide or require the use of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) that include safety boots and shoes with non-skid soles. The employee should be required to wear protective gloves to minimize the potential spread of infectious diseases and dangerous contaminants. These gloves are also effective at preventing chemical burns. Additionally, wearing metal mesh aprons, gloves and forearm/wrist guards can protect the employee from life-threatening knife cuts.
- Reduce Noise Levels – Management must provide employees ear plugs in areas of the plant with excessive noise levels and provide goggles or face shields for any employee exposed to toxic chemicals, cleaners and other dangerous materials that could cause a chemical burn or injury to the eyes, face or skin.
Finally, employers should mandate effective training programs that identify serious health and safety hazards to inform the worker on how to avoid emergency situations. This measures include ensuring that every worker is familiar with their environment and surroundings and how to properly follow the processes and use materials and equipment as designed.
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