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Will new safety rules make it to poultry processing plants?

Working in a manufacturing or industrial setting can be very taxing. The unfortunate reality is that the physically demanding work in this setting can lead to injuries. Although some injuries result from a one-time accident, others develop over the course of time as the result of repetitive movements.

Employee safety observers are concerned about a new set of rules that could be coming to poultry processing plants throughout the country. Under the proposed plan, which is expected to go before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, fewer federal safety inspectors would be present in processing facilities. As a result, the companies would hire their own inspectors and the speed of production lines would increase.

Based on current safety regulations, 140 birds can be processed in a minute. The new rules would loosen regulations and allow 175 units to be processed every minute.

Already workers report suffering crippling injuries as a result of the rapid, repetitive cuts they make on poultry. Carpal tunnel syndrome is one of the most common medical conditions developed in this type of work setting. Increasing the speed of production lines would only exacerbate the painful injuries, according to some safety advocates.

A group of U.S. senators have signed a letter urging Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to expedite the approval process for the new rules. They say that this is an important way to modernize poultry processing without creating additional safety concerns, including worker injuries and food contamination.

Despite voiced support for the changes among lawmakers, the reality is that workers in Minnesota poultry plants may be developing injuries as a result of their hard work. Longer-term, repetitive motion injuries can be covered by workers' compensation, fortunately, but getting medical documentation is critical for successful claims.

In an interview with the McClatchy news service, one worker noted that they "must endure" the conditions in process plants despite injuries, because it is the only way they can make ends meet.

Source: McClatchy, "New rules would let poultry industry rule the roost on plant safety, critics say," Renee Schoof, Jan. 16, 2014

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