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Call for Protection for Poultry and Meat Processing Workers

05 September 2013

US - A coalition of civil rights groups has called on the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the US Department of Agriculture to better protect workers in poultry and meatpacking plants.

The groups claim that the federal policies allow workers to operate in hazardous conditions that often leave them with disabling injuries, illnesses and pain.

The groups petitioned OSHA to issue new work speed standards to better protect these workers responsible for making the United States the largest producer of poultry and beef in the world.

The petitioners claim that while OSHA has general health and safety rules for workplaces, these rules do not regulate processing line speeds that often operate at a punishing pace.

The only federal agency regulating line speed is the USDA, which is solely focused on food safety and maximising production for the industries, the coalition said.

And it added that although there is ample evidence that work speed is a primary contributor to injuries, the USDA has proposed increasing poultry processing line speeds from a maximum of 140 birds per minute to 175.

The groups' petition also calls on the USDA to reconsider its proposed rule change.

"Meatpacking and poultry processing line jobs are among the most notoriously dangerous jobs in the United States," the group's petition states.

It notes that "OSHA's current failure to regulate poultry and meat processing plant work speed puts plant workers at significant risk of permanently disabling cumulative trauma disorders," such as carpal tunnel syndrome, which are caused by the extraordinary number of repetitive motions these workers perform.

The coalition includes the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest, Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, Coalition of Poultry Workers, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Farmworker Advocacy Network, Heartland Workers Center, Interfaith Worker Justice, Midwest Coalition for Human Rights, National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, North Carolina Justice Center, Northwest Arkansas Worker Justice Center, Refugee Women's Network, Student Action with Farmworkers and Western North Carolina Workers' Center.

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