The path of food from farm to table is something that most Americans ignore. It wasn’t always that way. Over the last century, the percentage of U.S. families involved in food production and packaging has dropped from around 70 percent to only 3 percent. Life on the farm-and work in a slaughterhouse or cannery-is now completely foreign to most people’s lives.
Mechanization, industrial production methods, automation, modern inventory management techniques, and consolidation of the food sector has allowed the American consumer to enjoy an unprecedented variety of food year-round, despite the huge drop-off in the number of people actually employed in the food system. That’s true even in Pennsylvania, which historically has been a key part of the nation’s food production system. Eastern Pennsylvania is still dotted with poultry farms, and many internationally known food-processing companies have chosen to locate here. Agriculture remains our state’s largest industry. But the ability to do more with fewer workers means that the average person does not realize how hazardous it can be to work in the food packing and meat processing industries.
Food production and processing plants teem with potential dangers to employees. The work is fast-paced, and any lapse of alertness can lead to a catastrophic accident. Even day-to-day work can involve repeated motions or movement in awkward positions, key triggers for repetitive stress injuries. The Centers for Disease Control put it bluntly: “Agriculture ranks among the most hazardous industries. Farmers are at very high risk for fatal and nonfatal injuries.”
The hazards facing slaughterhouse, food packaging, and meat-processing workers are largely attributable to the pace of the work. Because profit margins are slim in the food industry, businesses demand high volume. Line speeds are set to the highest allowed by federal sanitation laws, rather than the speeds that would be best for worker safety.
When most people think of “food safety,” they think of the risk of food borne illness-not the larger problem of accident risks in packing plants.
Workers’ Compensation For Pennsylvania Workplace Accidents
Under law, Pennsylvania workers’ compensation benefits are available to an injured worker, no matter who may have caused the injury. However, under the “grand bargain” that established workers’ comp rules, all workers lose their rights to sue their employers or coworkers for any negligent acts. The trade off is that workers get guaranteed coverage for their injuries, while the employers are insulated from some lawsuits.
However, sometimes a food packing worker or meat processor is injured due to the neglectful acts of a third party-someone who does not work for the same boss. In such cases, it may be possible to file a personal injury lawsuit in Pennsylvania against this negligent third party. Your Pennsylvania injury attorney can inform you whether your case qualifies.
Common Meat Industry And Food Packing Injuries In Pennsylvania
The food industry employees who ask for our help in getting comp benefits suffer from a wide assortment of workplace injuries. We all recognize that any injury can happen anywhere. However, the list below represents some of the complaints these workers most often report.
- Amputations. Industrial food processing is a high-speed occupation. Because of the pressure to get the maximum throughput in a given work shift, it’s far too easy for a factory accident to result in the loss of a limb or a digit. Meat cutters, slaughterhouse workers, and machine operators at food packaging plants are all vulnerable to this type of injury. Any attempt to clear a jam in a hopper feed or on a conveyer line can result in a body part-especially hands, fingers, and thumbs-being caught in the mechanism and mangled.
- Fatal accident. In the food industry, contact with moving machinery is greatest single cause for fatal workplace injuries. About a third of all machinery accidents for this group of employees involve contact with conveyors-typically flat-belt conveyers. Food packaging workers must exert extreme caution when using, performing maintenance on, and (especially) clearing jams from conveyer belts-and remember, even a conveyer at rest can resume motion suddenly and unexpectedly. Other sources of danger include filling and sealing machines, palletizers, labeling machines, and wrapping devices.
- Lifting injuries. Production jobs in food processing involve repetitive, physically demanding work that has been linked to musculoskeletal injuries. By handling heavy loads or loads that are awkward to grasp because of their shape or size, workers in Pennsylvania’s food processing industries place themselves at risk for painful damage to their backs, legs, and knees. Food packing lifting injuries can include damage to spinal vertebrae or ruptured discs in the spinal column, or tendon, ligament, and cartage damage anywhere in the body.
- Moving machinery accidents. Being hit or entangled in mechanical devices is a constant hazard in a cannery, food packaging plant, or slaughterhouse. Such heavy equipment injuries include damage from power tools, large hand tools, and industrial equipment including forklifts and other vehicles. When unguarded moving components snag an article of clothing, or when a large object traps a limb, severe wounds can follow. The results can range from crushing injuries and lacerations, to sprains, to mutilation, amputation, and death.
- Occupational disease. Working conditions in the food industry can exact a serious toll in the form of illness developed on the job. Various types of occupational diseases can come from exposure to chemicals or bacteria in the course of work. Contact with pesticides and inhaled dried fecal material can lead to an acute heath crisis. Confined animal feeding operations can expose workers to hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, and methane, as well as pathogens such as salmonella and E. coli bacteria. Even food labeling processes can expose workers to adhesives and plasticizers that may cause cancer or may damage the respiratory, cardiovascular, or reproductive systems.
- Repetitive trauma. Workers in food packaging and processing jobs may experience discomfort from performing similar tasks repeatedly, by working in awkward postures, or by often performing heavy physical exertion. Each such incident of repetitive trauma inflicts a cumulative damage to nerves, blood vessels, and the muscular system. Eventually, the stress reaches a tipping point and becomes an acute and painful case. One study found that the rate of such disorders in meatpacking jobs was 27 times the rate for all workers. Even through repetitive trauma injuries do not show wounds or external damage, they can cause significant lasting disability that may not be curable.
- Scars and burns. Sharp blades, electrical power, and heat all mean that burns, scars, and disfigurement are often dangers in the food packing workplace. Cutting blades, slicers, and shredders can lead to fearsome injuries, including amputations. Heat sealing for containers can scald or sear flesh, inflicting indelible, disfiguring burns.
- Slip and fall accidents. Falling is a serious risk in almost every workplace. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that over 212,000 were seriously injured in 2009 by falls to the same or lower level. In the food packing and processing industry, spilled liquids can easily cause a accidental slip and fall that can break bones, injure joints, or bruise brain tissue. Even greater risks in this environment include falls from heights into vats of food or into working machinery.
The Bulldog Lawyers Stand With Food Processing Workers In Pennsylvania
Professionally known as the Bulldog Lawyers, the Pennsylvania Worker’s Compensation Larry Levin and Jay Shor have working together for over two decades to make sure all employees in the state have a chance to get fair recoveries when harmed on the job.
From our offices in Philadelphia, Reading, and Harrisburg, we can provide legal counsel to any worker whose Pennsylvania workers’ compensation benefits are cut off too soon or don’t reach as far as they should. If you are an injured worker in the food industry, call us today at 866-462-8553 to talk with an attorney dedicated to getting you the benefits you deserve.