June 22, 2015 Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH 0Comment

Will calls for humanely-treated poultry workers supersede commentaries (e.g., here, here) about mistreatment of chickens?

OSHA’s action last week may help us move in that direction. The agency issued penalties to a Delaware poultry processing facility for serious safety hazards. Allen Harim Foods received citations for two harmful working conditions that I’ve heard poultry workers complain about most strongly: The fast-paced repetitive motion of cutting chicken parts which cripples their hands, and restrictions on using the bathroom which strains (and worse) their bladders.

The musculoskeletal hazards identified by OSHA involve manual tasks that require

“excessive force and exertion, repetitive motions, and awkward postures resulting in ergonomic stressors.”

These are the kinds of physical stressors that lead to carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, and the like. The job titles of the affected workers (e.g., wing cutter, breast puller, breast trimmer, tender scorer, tender clipper) help me visualize how they could be at risk of these injuries if their workstations are poorly designed or they are forced to use improper equipment.

Allen Harim was also cited for failing to make lavatories available to employees when they needed to use them.

“Employees were not granted permission to use them [toilets] and/or were not replaced at their lines, waiting up to 40 minutes to use lavatories.”

OSHA requires employers to make bathrooms available so that workers can use them when they need to.

Advocates for poultry processing workers welcomed OSHA’s action against the Delaware firm. Rey Hernandez of the Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center told me:

“We are pleased to see OSHA taking a serious look at the results which repetitive motions on the poultry line can have on worker health.”

There are a dozen poultry processing plants in northwest Arkansas. Hernandez added:

“It was particularly important for us to see them acknowledge that some workers in the poultry industry do not get adequate access to lavatories. We see this issue as indicative of the lack of respect and concern for the human dignity of workers, where production is valued over people.”

OSHA’s inspection was the result of complaints filed by workers at the plant who are represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers. OSHA used its “general duty clause” to cite the company for the ergonomic hazards. It’s the second time in six months that the agency did so against a poultry processing company. In December, OSHA cited Wayne Farms in Jack, Alabama under its general duty clause to protect workers from heavy-lifting hazards which also cause musculoskeletal injuries. Prior to those citations, it had been more than 10 years since OSHA issued citations against a poultry company for ergonomic hazards.

Allen Harim sells their products under their own name as well as Nature’s Sensation and Al Mazra’ ah Halal Chicken. The company promises their chickens are humanely treated:

“Every Allen Harim employee and grower signs a humane treatment pledge that specifies:

  • Humane handling of live poultry at every step of the process
  • Training of all employees and contract growers
  • Facility management that maintains bird comfort
  • Facilities with live birds have emergency plans in place”

With the chicken well cared for—and now this wake-up call from OSHA—let’s see if Allen Harim will turn its attention to its workforce. How about a pledge to eliminate crippled hands and strained bladders?

[Read a companion blog post by Matt Shudtz with the Center for Progressive Reform.]


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