In August, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a 19-page report, detailing its findings of a February inspection at the Tyson chicken processing plant near Center, Texas. OSHA also released results of a July inspection, and, altogether, inspectors found the company guilty of 15 serious and two repeat safety violations, with fines totaling $263,000.
These inspections revealed potentially deadly hazards, like the lack of safety guards on machines. One worker lost a finger in one such machine at the Center plant earlier in 2016 while trying to dislodge a jam.
Tyson safety violations are not isolated – OSHA has been uncovering hazards in chicken processing plants for years, in Texas and elsewhere. But for a company that expects to earn $37 billion this year, $263,000 in OSHA fines may be of little concern. To those seriously injured on the job, however, $263,000 may not even begin to cover their medical costs or loss of income.
Types of Violations
The two inspection reports released in August detailed safety violations that included:
- Inadequate slip-and-fall protection – In an area where workers handle fluids and fats, floor drainage was inadequate, and the company had not provided elevated platforms or mats that would protect workers from slipping and falling.
- Tripping hazards – A drain approximately one foot wide was recessed two inches into the floor, with no covering to prevent workers from stepping into the hole and tripping.
- Blocked emergency exits – Shipping pallets were stacked in front of an emergency exit.
- Lack of machine guards – Workers were exposed to injury from entrapment, sparks, and flying debris, due to a lack of proper machine guards.
- Excessive carbon dioxide exposure – Workers in a particular area were exposed to an average carbon dioxide level up to two times greater than the permissible exposure level.
- Improper storage – Poorly stacked storage containers increased a risk of injury for workers in the area.
- Inadequate signage – Workplace hazards were not marked with yellow caution signs.
Inspectors also cited Tyson for storing oxygen and fuel-gas cylinders together – a violation cited in a previous inspection report from Tyson’s Albertville, AL, plant.
In July 2015, a Tyson worker in Omaha, NE, suffered a partial amputation of several fingers when his hand became entrapped in a meat-grinder. Tyson, whose operations also include beef processing, reported 34 injury reports to OSHA in the first nine months of 2015 – and 17 of those accidents were amputations.
Public watchdog groups say the poultry industry is not adequately caring for its workers. One recent report found that some workers aren’t even allowed bathroom breaks, which is a violation of federal employment law.
Meat processing workers often must stand for long hours and handle dangerous machinery. Without the right safety training, protective gear, and environmental controls, poultry workers may be at heightened risk of injury and illness. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reports that 42 percent of poultry workers at one South Carolina plant suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome, a painful and sometimes debilitating condition caused by repetitive motion of the hands and wrists.