Series Shows Reality for Workers at Meatpacking Plants

Here are many recommended reading links for people who care about how workers are treated at places that process the meat that lands on their tables.

I have recently written about how packing plants are still brutal places to work, according to the Government Accountability office, and the articles below reinforce those perceptions.

Harvest Public Media and NET Nebraska recently collaborated on reports that show the reality of life for the majority of people who work in meatpacking plants. Because there is different information in the audio and the written reports, I think it’s best to read and listen to both. The series is appropriately called: Dangerous Jobs, Cheap Meat

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA for short, considers work in food plants to be high-hazard manufacturing industries, and recently completed a 90-day regional emphasis in Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri that focused on such businesses.

Getting hurt working in a meatpacking plant is so common. As a person can read at the links, injury incidents range from repetitive motion problems for workers on the line to a maintenance worker being killed by machinery without the right guards and also amputations for employees struggling to earn a wage and keep up with line speeds.

Even with new reporting requirements that OSHA has, some experts say that injuries are underreported in meatpacking plants. A recent report also showed that working conditions were bad, specifically in poultry plants.

“The rate of meatpacking workers who lose time or change jobs because they’re injured is 70 percent higher than the average for manufacturing workers overall, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics,” as quoted in the NET Nebraska article about safety efforts. However, the article says that “meat processing is drastically safer than it was 20 years ago.”

Knowing that a workplace is safer but is a place where “meat and poultry workers are still hurt more often than other manufacturing workers” is a small assurance to those who work there.

The article talks about how companies are trying to change their culture and safety records.

It’s hard to not be skeptical, as injured workers are rushed back to the line, denied treatment, or fired for being unable to perform their jobs. That’s one reason that we represent meatpacking plant employees and families who suffer a wrongful death.

Greta Horner said this in the article about her husband’s “preventable” death as a maintenance worker at a meatpacking plant, and I firmly believe it.

“They need to realize that everybody that works there is a human being with a life and it’s not just a statistic, it’s a person.

“Their employees aren’t cattle that go through the chutes. They’re people with families.”

Heat Injuries Are Included in Workers’ Compensation

How is your summer going? Is it hot enough for you? Are you used to the heat yet?

These are all good questions for folks to ask each other as the calendar start of summer is coming. When you and your loved ones work outside, do you take breaks? What kind of training has your employer provided to make sure safety is followed in the outdoor workplace?

This link from the U.S. Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration was found on the Workers’ Injury Law & Advocacy Group’s Twitter feed and has some excellent resources available, including a smartphone app. These key words are really helpful for safety in the summer heat: “Water. Rest. Shade. The work can’t get done without them.” The link also includes educational resources, information about using the heat index, training, and an online toolkit.

Please review and follow these tips with loved ones before someone you know gets overheated this summer. Keep in mind that if a heat-related injury does occur at work, it’s important to talk to an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer for advice on what to do next.

Packing Plants Are Modern-Day ‘Jungle’

crete-nebraska-meat-packingBeef and chicken packing plants remain “brutal” workplaces, according to a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) study of the industry. More than 100 years ago, Sinclair Lewis, in “The Jungle,” wrote of brutal work conditions and treatment of Eastern European immigrants. Today the brutality continues, but the immigrants are from Latin America and, increasingly, Africa. The meat industry recruits them. The pay sucks, the conditions are uncomfortable, and the injuries pile on. Wages are frequently below $15 an hour.

Fifteen years ago, Eric Schlosser wrote “Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal,” which was considered a modern “Jungle.” He wrote of fast line speed in the modern packing industry and pointed out how it devastated modern workers. The book was a best-seller and made it to the big screen. It was a noble effort to get changes that protected packing-plant workers. Sadly, the bulk of legal reforms since the book have benefited employers. They attack workers every year in every state legislature. Sadly, the workers who bring us the food we enjoy just keep getting ignored.

It seems the more things change, the more they stay the same for this group of hardworking people.

March Tragic Month for Nebraska Workers: 4 Deaths So Far

Did you know that four people in Nebraska have died in work-related incidents this month? And March isn’t even over yet.

This recent news release from the U.S. Labor Department’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration goes into more detail about the circumstances regarding each person’s tragic, and as noted, “preventable work-related death.” Sympathies go to the loved ones of a 62-year-old worker in Sutherland; a 42-year-old worker in Hayland; a 42-year-old worker in Walthill; and a 61-year-old worker in Alliance.

It seems like the firm’s social-media channels have been inundated with these sad announcements, because all of these tragedies have occurred over less than two weeks. Four deaths in two weeks compares to 12 total on-the-job deaths in 2015, according to the news release.

“Additionally, OSHA has also opened 41 investigations since Jan. 1, 2016, 32 incidents were hospitalizations and nine were due to amputations. Last year, 162 severe Nebraska worker injuries were reported to OSHA, 113 of those required hospitalization and 52 involved amputation injuries.”

I agree with OSHA officials that it is essential for Nebraska’s business to review their safety and health programs and also make sure employees know and are using those procedures on a regular basis.

“Employers and workers alike can prevent job-related injury and death with simple, common sense safety procedures,” said Jeff Funke, OSHA’s area director in Omaha. “With spring now upon us, construction and other seasonable work will soon be in full swing. Once again, workers will be exposed to some of the most frequently cited OSHA hazards such as falls, struck-by, and trenching – three of the hazards suspected in the most recent fatalities.”

If you have questions about potential safety hazards in your workplace or you or a loved one has been injured at work, please contact an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer who can help you determine how to proceed. In addition, OSHA’s toll-free hotline is 800-321-OSHA (6742), and OSHA’s Omaha office number is 402-553-0171.

Brain Injury Association of Nebraska Advocates, Educates through Upcoming Conference

BIANE_LogoBrain injury is caused by trauma, and it causes lifelong problems to which victims and their loved ones must adapt.

Our firm and our senior member, Rod Rehm, has represented victims of traumatic brain injury (TBI) since the early ’80s. Obtaining recognized evidence concerning most TBIs has been made much easier by associations such as the Brain Injury Association of Nebraska (BIA-NE).

This group of victims and their families have worked tirelessly to inform and educate the public and our lawmakers about TBI. BIA-NE has been a strong and effective advocate for victims and their families. There are a lot of really interesting and helpful resources on the website. In addition, the group hosts events that offer information and support, including an upcoming conference in Kearney from March 31 through April 1. The registration deadline is Friday, March 25, so please register for the conference through this link.

Organizers suggest the following people should consider attending this conference, according to the website:

  • “People with Brain Injuries
  • Family Members/Caregivers
  • Health Care Professionals (See For Professionals)
  • State Agency Personnel
  • Educators who work with brain injury or special needs children.
  • Law Enforcement Personnel
  • Anyone interested in issues and trends in brain injury”

In addition to the upcoming conference, BIA-NE also holds events that focus on supporting veterans and their caregivers.

TBI victims now face more accepting judges, juries and insurance companies as they seek proper treatment and compensation thanks to this inspiring advocacy.

Rehm, Bennett and Moore is proud that Rod Rehm has been designated as a Recognized Brain Injury Attorney by the Brain Injury Association of Nebraska.