Amputations abound at Tyson Foods, OSHA records shed more light on industrial food production

Whole digits, tips of fingers, and parts of a thumb. These are body parts of Tyson Foods' employees which were severed last year in 10 of the company's plants. The details are made possible by a new OSHA regulation that took effect on January 1, 2015. The regulation requires employers to report within 24 hours any work-related incident that results in an amputation or hospitalization.

After nearly a year on the books, I was curious to find out what just a single large employer had reported to federal OSHA. I picked Tyson Foods. It has more than more than 400 facilities in 30 US states and it processes 35 million chickens, 400,000 hog, and 128,000 cattle per week. I sent a FOIA request to federal OSHA in October asking for data on injury reports submitted by Tyson Foods. I wasn't sure what to expect. How many incidents did Tyson report? For what kind of amputations and hospitalizations?

Two weeks ago, I received OSHA's response to my FOIA request. It does not include information from the states the run their own OSHA program, 10 of which have Tyson operations. Here’s what I learned for the period January 1, 2015 through September 30, 2015:

  • Tyson made 34 reports to OSHA of amputations or hospitalizations. The hospitalizations included a worker at the company’s facility in Rogers, AR who fell 32 feet off of a roof, and a worker in Holcomb, KS who broke his leg while learning to operate a forklift.
  • Seventeen of the 34 incidents were amputations---an average of more than 1 per month. I've summarized them in this table:
Tyson amputations Reports to OSHA of amputations at Tyson Foods' plants (Jan 1, 2015-Sept 30, 2015)
  • Seven of the 17 incidents occurred at beef-processing plants and another seven at poultry-processing plants.
  • An incident in February 2015 at Tyson's St. Joseph's, MO plant resulted in a sanitation worker losing both hands.
  • Two plants---one in Amarillo, TX the other in Lexington, NE---had two amputations each.

Some of the injury reports are more descriptive than others. The reports of two amputations in August that occurred at Tyson's Amarillo, TX plant simply say this:

"Employees are exposed to 'caught between' hazards when operating fork lifts due to lack of training."

While the incident in April at the Emporia, KS beef-processing plant is described this way:

"Employee was working on the flat steak line running meats over the skinner when his left thumb was cut on the blade (skinner is like a planner that removes the outer layer of the meat) amputating the outside edge and end of the right thumb."

Skinners. Band saws. Wing saws. Hide grippers. The names of these tools tell just part of the story of why these amputations occurred. Their names, however, provide more than an inkling about the physical demands of these jobs.

This 9-month snapshot of data on amputations at Tyson Foods' facilities provide just a glimpse. What have other large food production companies reported to OSHA?

Time for me to write some more FOIA requests.

 

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BOTH hands?! Both hands? How does a person get over something like that? How much does rehab and PT and OT and prosthetics cost? Who will pay for it? Will anyone pay for it, or is that poor worker now destined to a life with no hands?!

That is horrifying and horrible. I'm pretty sure I don't buy any Tyson's products, but if I did I would be inclined to stop.

By JustaTech (not verified) on 28 Jan 2016 #permalink

Very sad, but informative blog. Thank you. Why do you have to do FOIA requests? I thought this information was publically accessible?

By Amy Liebmam (not verified) on 29 Jan 2016 #permalink

Amy,
OSHA doesn't have the information posted on its website. My experience with OSHA is if you want specific records, they insist you file a FOIA request.