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NIOSH study finds widespread carpal tunnel among poultry workers, underscores why Poultry Rule is a bad idea

We know we have talked a lot the past several months about a proposed rule out of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that, among other measures, would increase line speeds at poultry factors up to five times.

But that plan has become even more precarious.

A recent government study conducted by NIOSH of a South Carolina poultry plant found that 4 in 10 workers showed signs of carpal tunnel. A majority of workers reported “multiple musculoskeletal symptoms,” most commonly hand and wrist pain. And that’s before the line speed is increased.

Out of 318 participants at the plant, 213 “reported pain, burning, numbness or tingling in their hands or wrists in the past 12 months.” Furthermore, two-thirds of those 213 workers reported “awakening from sleep because of these symptoms.”

“This gives you a snapshot of what goes on in one plant,” said Celeste Monforton, a public health expert at George Washington University, told the Huffington Post’s Dave Jamieson. “It’s done and it shows damning results. … I don’t know how USDA will dismiss what’s in this.”

“Poultry line workers are among some of the most vulnerable laborers in the U.S.,” Jamieson reported. “The polyglot workforces often include immigrants from Latin American and African countries, who generally work for low pay on demanding production schedules. Class-action lawsuits have become common in the industry, with workers claiming they’re shorted on their wages or required to work off the clock.”

Yet, the White House and USDA both seem committed to promulgating this rule. NIOSH said that it will evaluate workers again after a speed-up to determine what the health effects were.

We are not impressed with the administration’s disregard for workers’ health in an industry that employs significant numbers of vulnerable workers.