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GAO says meat, poultry plant accidents underreported

Pennsylvania meat and poultry workers along with their counterparts throughout the country may be facing injuries at a much higher rate than is being reported despite the fact that overall, slaughterhouses are safer workplaces than in the past. According to the Government Accountability Office, 151 workers in the industry died between 2004 and 2013 due to accidents on the job, and injuries are most likely underreported for a variety of reasons.

Even deaths may be underreported as one factor the GAO cited in its concerns about was the use of third-party contractors. Workers for these contractors may suffer amputations or even death, but these incidents are not always included in industry data. Furthermore, workplaces may employ medical staff who discourage employees from taking time off. One worker did not receive a referral to a physician until after making 90 visits to the nursing station. In addition, nonnative workers may be concerned about keeping their jobs and may not receive adequate safety training due to language barriers.

Meat and poultry processing plants have long been the target of scrutiny by advocates for workers. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reported that few of the approximately 33 percent of workers with carpal tunnel syndrome had their injuries reported. Organizations such as Oxfam, the Southern Poverty Law Center and Nebraska Appleseed have also criticized industry practices that put workers at risk.

Employees who do seek medical care and workers' compensation for their injuries may in some cases find themselves targeted by their employers for doing so. It is illegal for employers to retaliate against employees for filing a workers' compensation claim, but many employees are not aware of this or do not even know if they are eligible for benefits. Injured employees do have legal recourse, and they may want to speak to an attorney about their rights after a workplace accident.

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Gregory R. Gifford
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