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Meat and poultry industry in need of worker safety improvements

The meat and poultry industry has one of the highest injury rates among workers, and anyone associated with this field in New Jersey will want to know about a recent report from the Government Accountability Office. The GAO has stated that better communication between federal agencies like OSHA and the Food Safety and Inspection Service may help improve worker safety conditions.

The data under analysis included OSHA inspection records from 2005 to 2016 as well as interviews conducted by agency representatives, worker advocates and other individuals. The GAO found that OSHA has been unable to gather adequate data on unsafe worker conditions because employees, fearing retaliation, sometimes refrain from reporting violations and injuries. Many in the meat and poultry industry are allowed only limited bathroom access, and others are exposed to hazardous chemicals.

OSHA has increased the number of annual inspections of meat and poultry factories; compared to 177 in 2005, there were 244 inspections in 2016. The GAO report suggests several improvements to OSHA procedures. For example, the agency could conduct off-site interviews with workers, asking up front about issues like limited bathroom breaks. It could also benefit from greater cooperation and information sharing with the FSIS, in keeping with their joint memorandum of understanding, signed back in 1994. The report calls for greater self-evaluation among both agencies.

Employees who suffer an injury in a meatpacking factory can receive compensation for any medical expenses, lost wages and future lost income if there's a permanent disability. When reporting the accident to their employer and filing for workers' compensation benefits, hiring a lawyer is recommended as he or she can determine a reasonable settlement. If it's clear that the employer was negligent, for example by ignoring OSHA guidelines, the victim could file a personal injury claim instead.

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