Rough day for the meatpacking industry. Several labor rights groups and industry advocates asked the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to limit line speeds at these plants, to slow down employee work speeds. They have denied that petition.
Currently line speeds can be as high as 325 cattle per hour and 175 birds a minute, in poultry plants. Not only is this dangerous to workers who are around serious machinery, but workers can also suffer from carpal tunnel or other musculoskeletal health issues. OSHA said they do not have enough resources at the moment to commit to creating safeguards for these industries.
Advocates are worried that a lack of speed standards exposes their workers to greater risks and injuries. Currently there is a General Duty Clause in the Occupational Safety and Health Act which simply requires employers to provide a safe work environment free from hazard that may create a risk of death. Groups say that’s not enough and they want a specific line speed standard for these kinds of plants.
There are regulations for food safety at these plants, but there are not similarly defined and specific regulations for line speed as it is related to worker safety. There are safety guidelines that have been suggested to worksites, but they aren’t really enforceable, which doesn’t mean that the guidelines are necessarily followed. Many employees say they think that speeds have significantly increased over the years, but the amount of people working the line has pretty much stayed the same or even dropped. Debilitating hand and wrist injuries are common in this industry.
An OSHA official says that these musculoskeletal disorders in the industry may not wholly be attributed to line speed and there are other factors that could be at play that are causing them. He also said that OSHA is a relatively small agency and it would be hard for their inspectors to cover every plant, and maybe their size isn’t their fault but is still alarming to me that they are such a small agency and they have so much to cover.
If the work were slowed down workers could be more careful and hopefully less prone to accidents.
Maybe it will take another book like The Jungle to convince OSHA and the Department of Labor to look into this and try to create some solid safeguards for the industry. I hope that employers, workers and policymakers can come together on this to protect employees who seem to be at risk.