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New report exposes the dangers to poultry workers in Alabama

The Southern Policy Law Center and Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice came out with a report today that exposes the dangers Alabama’s poultry industry poses to plant workers and poultry consumers- dangers likely to intensify under proposed federal regulatory changes for the industry.

The report, “Unsafe at These Speeds: Alabama’s Poultry Industry and its Disposable Workers,” based on over 300 interviews directly with Alabama workers, describes how workers in this industry often suffer significant injuries and illnesses as they are forced to keep up with the punishing speed of the plant’s processing line. Workers, both U.S. and immigrant workers, recount how they were forced to endure dangerous conditions and silenced by threats of deportation and firing.  

Making matters worse, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is poised to implement a rule in April that would allow poultry factories to speed up inspection lines at the factories as much as five times the current speed. In other words, poultry workers would be forced to inspect 175 birds a minute, or one bird every one-third of a second.

“Poultry workers often endure debilitating pain in their hands, gnarled fingers, chemical burns, and respiratory problems- tell-tale signs of repetitive motion injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, and other ailments that flourish in these plants,” the report said.

Already, about 59 percent of poultry workers develop repetitive motion injuries while working in the plants. Speeding up the inspection lines will almost certainly be detrimental to workers’ health.

Nearly three-quarters of the poultry workers interviewed for this report described suffering some type of significant work-related injury or illness. In spite of many factors that lead to under-counting of injuries in poultry plants, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reported an injury rate of 5.9 percent for poultry processing workers in 2010, a rate that is more than 50 percent higher than the 3.8 percent injury rate for all U.S. workers.

National COSH joined other organizations last fall in urging the USDA to withdraw the proposal. Now it’s time to make your voices heard. The USDA’s proposal is not yet finalized.

A petition telling the USDA to withdraw its proposed poultry rule has approximately 185,000 signatures. Add yours now.