Occupational Health News Roundup

This week, North Carolina’s Charlotte Observer is running an in-depth series, “The human cost of bringing poultry to your table.” After a 22-month investigation, reporters convey the grim picture: poultry-plant workers suffer high rates of crippling injuries, but fear losing their jobs if they complain, and companies cover up the problem. Observer editor Rick Thames reminds readers that this isn’t the first time North and South Carolina have powered their economies on the backs of “a disturbing subclass of compliant workers with few, if any, rights.” He writes:

Illegal immigrants often take the least desirable jobs, earning low wages, because those jobs lift them and their families from the poverty they left behind in their homelands.

As a group, they are compulsively compliant, ever-conscious that one complaint could lead to their firing or arrest or deportation.

“Some speak out, but most of these workers just wanted to remain in the shadows,” said Franco Ordoñez, a reporter who spent months speaking to workers in the Latino communities surrounding the poultry plants. “It’s just not worth it, considering how much they’ve already risked, to draw more attention to themselves — even if they’re hurt. They’re like the perfect victims.”

And, as you will read today, businesses take advantage of their silence and vulnerability.

Will we allow such conditions to go unchecked again?

This is a must-read series – and once you’ve read it, you might not look at chicken products the same way.

In other news:

New York Times: A manufacturer that supplied the U.S. military with defective Kevlar helmets has agreed to pay $2 million in a settlement with the Justice Department; days before the settlement was announced, the company got a new $74 million contract to make more armor for helmets to replace the old ones.

British Medical Journal: Depression and burnout are major problems in pediatric residents; depression is associated with more medication errors, but burnout is not. (Hat tip to White Coat Notes.)

Associated Press: The Mine Safety and Health Administration has issued new rules requiring that better trained and equipped mine rescue teams be located within an hour of where underground coal miners are working.

Medscape Medical News: Healthcare workers’ frequent handwashing can increase the risk of developing contact dermatitis.

The Telegraph (Calcutta): Environmental groups allege that a government official is trying to tamper with a study on the health hazards of asbestos.