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GAO: Safety in Meat and Poultry Industries Better But Need More Improvement

May 31, 2016
While injury and illness rates in the meat and poultry slaughtering and processing industry declined from 2004 through 2013, a new report from the Government Accountability Office indicates that hazards remain.

Although injury and illness rates in the meat and poultry processing industries have declined in recent years – similar to rates in all U.S. manufacturing – the rates continue to be higher than rates for manufacturing overall, according to the report “Workplace Safety and Health: Additional Data Needed to Address Continued Hazards in the Meat and Poultry Industry,” from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Injury rates in meat and poultry processing declined from an estimated 9.8 cases per 100 full-time workers in 2004 to 5.7 in 2013. Meat workers sustained a higher estimated rate of injuries and illnesses than poultry workers, according to DOL data.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) evaluations and academic studies have found that workers continue to face the same hazardous conditions GAO cited in 2005, including tasks associated with musculoskeletal disorders, exposure to chemicals and pathogens and traumatic injuries from machines and tools.

DOL faces challenges gathering data on injury and illness rates for meat and poultry workers because of underreporting and inadequate data collection. For example, workers may underreport injuries and illnesses because they fear losing their jobs, and employers may underreport because of concerns about potential costs. Another data gathering challenge is that DOL only collects detailed data for those injuries and illnesses that result in a worker having to take days away from work. These detailed data do not include injuries and illnesses such as musculoskeletal disorders that result in a worker being placed on work restriction or transferred to another job.

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