As I wrote in a previous blog post, OSHA has decided to make a 90-day regional emphasis on “high-hazard manufacturing industries” in Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri, which are three of the four states in what the Occupational Safety and Health Administrations calls Region 7.*
“The emphasis program focuses on manufacturing industries where injury and illness rates exceed the average for the private sector. Included are manufacturers of the following products: food, furniture, fabricated metal, nonmetallic mineral, machinery, and computer products as well as printing and related support activities,” according to the OSHA news release.
Sadly, this increased inspection effort may have been inspired by some injury incidents recently written about by in an article from the ScienceBlogs website “The Pump Handle: A Water Cooler for the Public Health Crowd” titled “Amputations about at Tyson Foods, OSHA records shed more light on industrial food production.”
Writer Celeste Monforton, who has master’s and doctorate degrees in public health, made a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request regarding the federal OSHA regulation that “requires employers to report within 24 hours any work-related incident that results in an amputation or hospitalization,” according to her article. The request asked for data from Tyson Foods, which “has more than 400 facilities in 30 U.S. states, and it processes 35 million chickens, 400,000 hogs, and 128,000 cattle per week.”#
In a nine-month period, from Jan. 1 through Sept. 30, 2015, Monforton discovered 34 reports by Tyson of amputations or hospitalizations.
“The hospitalizations included a worker at the company’s facility in Rogers, AR (Arkansas) who fell 32 feet off of a roof, and a worker in Holcomb, KS (Kansas) who broke his leg while learning to operate a forklift.”
She goes on to write that 17 of 34 incidents were amputations – in a 9-month period – not even over a whole year. The article has a tragic and sobering table that summarizes the amputations, and it is worth clicking to the article to take a look at the table because it includes the month, body part, equipment or tool in use, product (type of plant), city and state involved in each incident.
Here’s a summary of her list that focuses specifically on Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas, where eight of the 17 amputations occurred.
There were four amputations in the Nebraska plants of Lexington (fingertip; and tips of middle and index fingers using band saws in the beef plant), Omaha (ring, index and pinky fingers using the skinner in the poultry plant) and Dakota City (thumb using the sprocket in the pork plant). There were three amputations in the Missouri plants of St. Joseph (both hands using the auger), Monnet (distal portion third finger using the impeller in the poultry plant), and Sedalia (middle finger to first knuckle on the cone line in the poultry plant). The Kansas amputation was in the Emporia beef plant, when the skinner was being used and the end and outside part of a thumb were amputated.
These incidents (and the Kansas forklift-training one mentioned above) may explain OSHA’s new regional emphasis, as Tyson’s meatpacking plants should definitely count as “high-hazard manufacturing industries,” in my opinion.
Though the reports are brutal and tragic, I hope that Monforton completes more FOIA requests to OSHA to track trends, because each of these injury incidents greatly affected someone and their loved ones, whether their lives were changed temporarily or permanently, such as the worker whose hands were amputated in Missouri.
Meanwhile, though I realize it doesn’t cover the same dates as Monforton’s article, Tyson recently released earnings of “record results” for the first quarter of fiscal year 2016, which ended on Jan. 2 of this year, according to the link above.
“‘Fiscal 2016 is off to a very strong start in what we expect to be another record year,’ said Donnie Smith, president and chief executive officer of Tyson Foods. ‘Solid execution across the entire team resulted in record earnings, record operating income, record margins and record cash flows. We captured $121 million in total synergies for the quarter, with $61 million incremental to fiscal first quarter 2015.
“‘Our on-going efforts to invest in and grow our Core 9 product lines are paying off as sales volume for the most recent four week period was up 4%. The Core 9 product lines represent our strongest brands, greatest pricing power and best category growth opportunities and are major contributors to volume and profitability in the retail channel,’ Smith said. The Core 9 is composed of nine retail product lines in the Tyson®, Jimmy Dean®, Hillshire Farm®, Ball Park®, State Fair® and Aidells® brands.”
Though unfortunately, the number of work-related injury incidents isn’t available for the first quarter above, it’s suspected that they’re not much different than any other three-month snapshot of all the Tyson plants. It is a certainty that you can draw your own conclusions about how Tyson values its workers, based on Monforton’s article. It’s worth noting that in a quarter where record profits were had for shareholders, it’s highly doubtful that it was an amputation-free quarter for all workers, based on past performance in Monforton’s article.
In conclusion, I wish the best for OSHA in its quest to focus on “high-hazard manufacturing industries.”
Here’s hoping that the resulting education efforts and inspections mean greater safety knowledge for workers and fewer life-changing incidents, like amputations, that adversely affect workers, their loved ones, and society as a whole.
*Note that Iowa is also in Region 7, but according to OSHA’s website, it’s one of the states that “operate their own OSHA-approved job safety and health programs and cover state and local government workers.” Because Iowa has a state program, I believe that’s why it’s not targeted in this regional emphasis.
#Note that Monforton’s FOIA “does not include information from the states that run their own OSHA program, 10 of which have Tyson operations,” according to the article she wrote that is linked to above.