July 2, 2008 The Pump Handle 0Comment

For PBS, Bill Moyers’ Journal and Exposé: America’s Investigative Reports went to the Charlotte Observer to learn more about their excellent series on injured poultry workers, The Cruelest Cuts. Reporters actually stumbled on the story in 2005, when they were reporting on avian influenza. Poultry workers told them that, yes, an avian flu outbreak would hurt them, but they were more concerned about on-the-job injuries. Observer reporters started filing Freedom of Information Act requests for more than 800 inspection files, looking at publicly available records, and tracking down workers who’d agree to be interviewed. Jaime Hernandez, a former worker at the Columbia Farms plant that reported a streak of seven million safe hours, also spoke on camera for PBS:

My job focused on the meat, getting it off the bone, at first grab it and cut it, that is piece after piece after piece. Because of the pain and such, I got these little balls in my hand. I had surgery, and after that, I asked if I could go home to rest. And they said no, that I needed to be at work, even if I didn’t do anything, just sitting in the office. And I said, but I don’t feel well, I’m dizzy, it hurts, things like that. They said you have to be at the plant so they can pay you, because if you aren’t, you can lose your job.

The reporters learned that poultry plants go to such extreme lengths to keep workers from missing entire shifts because plants reporting high rates of serious injuries may be targeted for inspection. As a result, the official figures miss thousands of debilitating injuries, and unsafe conditions persist.

You can watch the PBS show here and read the Charlotte Observer series here.

In other news:

Occupational Hazards: At a House Education and Labor Committee hearing, several witnesses urged for OSHA to improve safety at construction sites, where an average of four workers die each day; OSHA head Edwin Foulke  insisted that “OSHA’s enforcement program regarding construction is working, but committee chair George Miller remained skeptical.

New York Times: Worker health advocates fear that if John Howard does not continue as NIOSH director, the federal government’s health program for Ground Zero workers will be endangered.

Washington Post: A clinical psychologist shares some of the stories she heard from Iraq veterans while working for the U.S. Army.

NIOSH: Researchers from NIOSH and the University of Buffalo are studying the effects of stress on police officers with the goal of preventing cardiovascular problems and other stress-related disorders.

New York Times: Many of the Chinese army troops responding to the devastating Sichuan province earthquake lacked the equipment and training to adequately carry out their rescue mission.

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