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Unsafe conditions, denied medical care for many poultry workers

It seems like the government isn't entirely sure how workers in the nation's poultry industry are actually doing when it comes to workplace safety, accidents, injuries and illnesses. The picture you get probably depends on which report you read.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released employer-reported data for 2015 on accidents and illnesses suffered by the nation's poultry workers that's heavily at odds with the data coming out the 2015 report by the Government Accountability Office. The difference probably lies in the fact that the Bureau of Labor Statistics takes its figures from what employers tell them. The GAO, on the other hand, takes its information from audits, onsite inspections and investigations.

According to the GAO, workers in the poultry industry face the same dangers in 2015 that they did in 2005, such as things like limbs mangled in machinery that's moving too fast, fingers crushed by equipment without adequate safeguards, painful repetitive trauma injuries from long hours at the same task without relief and sickness brought on by breathing in caustic disinfectants for hours at a time.

Worse, the GAO, along with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, both say that employees are being denied the right to report their injuries in order to keep statistics artificially low. Workers are being sent back to the line with minimal or no care after accidents so that the poultry companies don't have to report the injuries or make expensive claims under workers' compensation.

Many of the workers, who are often uneducated or immigrants, don't realize they can seek help for their situation. They may not realize that they have a legal right to ask for medical care if they're injured on the job. They also fear retaliation—sometimes rightfully—if they protest being sent back to the line, try to take a day off to get treatment or complain about unsafe working conditions.

Many may not even realize that they can even seek help by contacting OSHA about an employer who refuses to report their injuries. For many of these workers, the end only comes when they finally suffer a workplace accident that forces them to quit or develop a repetitive strain injury without ever seeking the compensation they might be legally entitled to for their injuries through workers' compensation.

Source: NELP, "Poultry Industry's Underreporting Of Workplace Injuries Fouls BLS Injury Data," Deborah Berkowitz, Nov. 04, 2016

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