Workers at U.S. meat and poultry processing plants are reluctant to tell federal inspectors about injuries or workplace hazards amid concerns that they could lose their jobs, according to a government report.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has difficulty addressing workers’ safety concerns because many won’t contact the agency for fear of employer retaliation, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said in a study released on Dec. 8. That means the agency “may not be able to identify or address conditions that endanger them.” OSHA usually conducts worker interviews on site, which prevents workers from remaining anonymous.
Employees interviewed by the GAO at plants in five states said bathroom access was a concern and they are afraid of speaking up at work. Requests to use the bathroom are often delayed or denied, and workers also cited concerns with on-site medical care. The GAO urged OSHA to ask workers to disclose sensitive concerns and get information about worker access to bathrooms, among other recommendations.
The report also found that chemicals don’t always undergo a federal review of potential risks to worker safety before being used in plants.
The GAO’s evaluation comes a year after a report from Oxfam America alleged that workers in U.S. poultry plants are regularly denied bathroom breaks and some resort to wearing diapers on the processing line. “The central underlying problem is the pervasive climate of fear inside poultry plants,” Oxfam said Dec. 7.
The poultry industry “is constantly looking at ways to continue to improve” worker safety, the National Chicken Council, the National Turkey Federation and the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association said.
“In a tight labor market like the one we have now, there is an even stronger incentive to protect our employees and ensure that they are healthy and able to perform their jobs,” Barry Carpenter, president of the North American Meat Institute.
By Megan Durisin