According to the Government Accountability Office, poultry and meat processing is one of the most dangerous occupations for workers in Minnesota and other states across the nation. A GAO report released in January 2018 indicates that workers in the industry commonly face hazards such as cuts, amputations and repetitive motion injuries, as well as respiratory illnesses from an antimicrobial chemical that is sprayed on the meat during processing. Some workers also report that they often are not allowed access to bathroom facilities, which could lead to kidney and other health problems.
The GAO found that the fear of retribution from employers has kept some workers from reporting the delayed or denied bathroom access. Employees who fear retribution also appear hesitant to report any injuries suffered while on the job. Although knives, hand saws and other manual tools are used in the workplace, first aid stations and on-site medical professionals are not readily accessible or even available in all situations.
The role that the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration plays in setting safety standards and enforcing regulations affects the health and well-being of the approximately 480,000 people who are employed in the meat and poultry processing industry nationwide. However, according to the worker-advocacy nonprofit Oxfam, the climate of fear inside the plants may deter workers from reporting problems to the very agency that could investigate the issues.
Some employees in meat and poultry processing facilities who have suffered workplace injuries may have recourse to assistance outside the plant. In Minnesota, an attorney who is well-familiar with the ins and outs of workers’ compensation law may be able to pursue workers’ compensation benefits on an employee’s behalf in some situations. These benefits could include the payment of medical expenses and in some cases a percentage of lost wages.