Workers at poultry plants are afraid to tell regulatory agencies about potential health hazards in their place of work, according to a new report from the United States Government Accountability Office. The report specifically notes that conditions at poultry plants are so bad that some facilities even prevent workers from taking bathroom breaks.
“Requests to use the bathroom are often delayed or denied,” reports Industry Week, “and workers also cited concerns with on-site medical care.”
The GAO further reports that workers who have witnessed safety concerns in their place of employment “may be reluctant to contact OSHA for fear of employer retaliation,” despite the fact that such retaliation is prohibited by federal law. Because workers do not submit complaints, these agencies “may not be able to identify or address conditions that endanger them.”
Oxfam America had previously identified this issue, alleging last year that some workers in U.S. poultry plants have resorted to wearing adult diapers at work due to regularly being denied access to bathrooms.
The report also found that potentially dangerous chemicals don’t always undergo a federal review before being used in these plants. Based on its findings, the GAO has made seven recommendations to improve poultry plant worker safety and wellbeing.
Working conditions at poultry plants have also been linked to repetitive motion injuries such as carpal tunnel, according to a 2014 study in Applied Ergonomics.
“We hear gruesome stories every day from poultry workers,” says Magaly Licolli, executive director of the Northwest Arkansas Workers' Justice Center. “The majority of our worker members are injured due to the current line speed. Hundreds of workers in our community can no longer work because of the repetitive motion that led to lifelong injuries.”
Current line speeds are regulated at 140 birds per minute, which many industry welfare groups note is too high. The National Chicken Council recently asked the USDA to waive all speed limits in poultry plants in order to allow the U.S. poultry industry to perform better on the international market.
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