Poultry producers are perplexed by some recent worker safety citations. This news release from the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association says the group, along with the National Chicken Council, take exception to the recent OSHA citation against Wayne Farms for alleged safety violations at its Jack, Alabama, plant involving musculoskeletal disorders and other workplace hazards, pointing out that the complaints originated with the Southern Poverty Law Center, an activist group with a long history of animosity toward the poultry industry.
OSHA’s accusations of wrongdoing lack evidence and are simply unfounded. OSHA incorrectly portrays an undeserved negative image of the entire poultry industry despite its outstanding record of improvement in employee health and safety, particularly over the past three decades.
The poultry industry finds it ironic that OSHA, in effect, is attacking the very same safety guidelines that it developed in cooperation with the poultry industry many years ago. In fact, this past summer OSHA and USDA issued a joint communication supporting “effective efforts by the poultry industry to protect the safety and health of employees.”
The poultry industry’s record of outstanding advancements in reducing ergonomic risks is based on fact. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reveals that poultry processing plants have reduced the rate of workplace illness, including musculoskeletal injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome, by 62 percent in the past decade. BLS data further indicate that “Total Recordable Injury and Illness” in poultry plants has dropped from 22.7 percent of employees in 1994, down to just 4.5 percent in 2013!
In the citations, OSHA references a nearly 50-year-old, ambiguous section of federal law, known as the General Duty Clause, which states that employers have a duty to provide a safe workplace. The poultry industry argues it is doing that, and imposing the General Duty Clause should require more than simple observation of job tasks.