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USDA may speed up meat processing despite worker dangers

Meat workers in New Jersey and across the nation face serious on-the-job risks every day. For example, amputations, fractures, head trauma and second-degree burns are common weekly occurrences in the industry. Even so, the government is considering speeding up pig processing lines, which could make some jobs more hazardous.

Statistics show that American meat workers face three times the risk of serious injuries when compared to the average U.S. worker. Meanwhile, beef and pork workers face seven times the risk of repetitive strain injuries. Despite this, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is debating whether to scrap current speed restrictions on pig processing lines. Government officials say the move will allow the USDA to focus on food safety and improve the welfare of animals. However, unions and worker safety advocates are worried that the proposal will lead to more injuries.

According to data from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, American meat processing plants average 17 severe safety incidents each month. Some of these incidents include amputations, which occur an average of twice per week. In fact, over a 31-month period between 2015 and 2017, there were 270 amputation incidents reported. Most incidents involved workers losing fingers or parts of fingers, but some workers also lost toes, hands and arms. Meanwhile, repetitive motion injuries are taking a serious toll with carpal tunnel syndrome leaving many meat workers permanently disabled.

Meat workers who suffer on-the-job injuries have the right to file for workers compensation benefits through their employer's insurance policy. If approved, such benefits provide medical coverage and wage replacement payments while a worker recovers from an injury. If someone is left permanently disabled, workers comp benefits provide long-term assistance. An attorney may explain all benefits available and help an injured worker prepare his or her application.

Source: The Guardian, "Two amputations a week: the cost of working in a US meat plant," Andrew Wasley, Christopher D. Cook and Natalie Jones, July 5, 2018

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