Occupational Health News Roundup

Celeste wrote last week about poultry workers asking the White House and the USDA to abandon the proposed poultry rule that would allow poultry-processing lines to speed up. At rates of up to 175 birds per minute, these faster-moving lines would make work even more hazardous for poultry workers, who already experience high rates of musculoskeletal disorders. Following the visit of a delegation of poultry workers to Washington, DC, Catherine Singley of the National Council of La Raza published a blog post featuring the words of poultry worker Bacilio Castro from the North Carolina Worker Justice Center. He said:

You want to know what’s in the chicken on your plate?  Tears.  Tears of the mothers who can’t lift their children because of the pain in their wrists and shoulders from working on the line.  We are not asking you to stop eating chicken.  We are simply asking to be treated as human beings and not as animals.

The Washington Post's Kimberly Kindy reports that in addition to messages from poultry workers and food-safety advocates, members of Congress are hearing from chicken-industry lobbyists. "The National Chicken Council has been spending an average of more than $500,000 annually lobbying Congress, according to lobbying records," she notes. A Charlotte Observer editorial contrasts this heavy spending with the often-unnoticed suffering of vulnerable poultry workers:

On Thursday, poultry workers from across the country met with lawmakers and administration officials on Capitol Hill to explain how the current combination of line speeds and repetitive motions already do damage to their hands and wrists. It’s rare that these workers, most of whom are Latino and black, have any voice. At work, they are often reluctant to complain for fear of being fired or turned over to immigration authorities.

... In a 2008 Charlotte Observer investigation, reporters spoke to more than 130 poultry workers, three-fourths of whom complained of hand and wrist injuries. Several suffered from later stages of carpal tunnel syndrome and were unable to straighten fingers or pick up objects like spoons. Some were afraid to use their trembling, weakened hands to pick up their young children.

... N.C. Sen. Kay Hagan, who is running for reelection in 2014, supports the USDA rule changes because they would free inspectors to concentrate on food safety, her office told the editorial board. But the changes also show disregard for the North Carolina workers who are among the most vulnerable. They need more advocacy and more safety – not more chickens, with the pain they surely would bring.

The Charlotte Observer's 2008 investigative series The Cruelest Cuts should be required reading for anyone who supports allowing poultry-processing lines to speed up.

In other news:

LAist: Oscars television viewers, though evidently not event attendees, saw saw the name of 27-year-old Sarah Jones, a camera assistant killed by a train during a film shoot, during the award ceremony's "In Memoriam" segment. Despite rules requiring rail-company representatives to be on site (in addition to other safety measures) when films are shot on railroad tracks, no such representative was present when Jones was killed.

The Tennessean: At a Tennessee legislative committee hearing, Rocky Tallent told lawmakers about how his 27-year-old son Michael was killed while working as a temp worker on a construction job for which he was given inadequate training. He spoke in support of two safety-related bills introduced by Representative Mike Stewart; one of them would require employers to fix serious safety hazards even if they are appealing violations, and the other would include information about companies' safety records in questionnaires to evaluate bidders for state-funded construction projects.

Denver Post (here, too): Those who worked at the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons facility in Colorado between April 1, 1952 and December 31, 1983 and have developed one of 22 types of cancer no longer have to reconstruct their histories of radiation exposure in order to qualify for medical compensation. Many former Rocky Flats workers who've spent years fighting for compensation are relieved at the decision, but some say the date range leaves out workers who had dangerous exposures.

Jacksonville Daily News (North Carolina): The latest research into the water contamination at the Camp Lejeune military base finds that the contamination began even earlier than previous estimates suggest. This has implications for the many servicemembers and their families who lived on the base while the contamination was present and are now experiencing cancers and other health problems that may be related to those exposures. A USA Today article notes that although President Obama signed a law offering health benefits to exposed former Marines and their families, Obama's Justice Department is arguing in a Supreme Court case for time limits on lawsuits involving toxic contamination.

In These Times: Several workers have been killed on the construction sites of stadiums and other projects preparing for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil.

More like this

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack seems determined to implement a new poultry slaughter inspection system, despite strong calls from the food safety and public health communities for him to withdraw it.   At an April 17 congressional hearing before the House Appropriations Subcommittees on Agriculture,…
Several recent newspaper editorials have gotten under USDA’s skin. Editors at the Charlotte Observer, Raleigh News Observer, Bellingham (WA) Herald and Gaston (NC) Gazette are skeptical that the USDA’s plan to “modernize” the poultry slaughter inspection process is a wise move. In “Fed's proposed…
The Obama Administration's USDA continues to insist that their proposed rule to "modernize" poultry slaughter inspections will improve food safety. Just last week, Secretary Vilsack's office said it is sticking with their plan, saying: "comprehensive effort to modernize poultry slaughter inspection…
The poultry industry must have its head stuck in the chicken coop. With Thanksgiving nearly upon us, the industry is trying to convince the public that poultry-processing plants are great places to earn a living. In just about a week, they’ve issued two written statements insisting they have…

Poultry processing lines must NOT be allowed to speed up. I am Latino, and I work with Latino workers. I feel their pain. They are being treated not as animals, but as machines that, when they wear out, are simply discarded and replaced with a new one. Cheap labor; sub-human. Not the concern of industry executives.

By Industrial Hygienist (not verified) on 18 Mar 2014 #permalink