A poultry processing plant in Delaware is facing allegations that it violated safety protocol, failed to properly report worker injuries and took adverse employment action against workers who did report injuries.
The company is appealing the findings by inspectors with the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), but the agency has demanded in the meantime the company address the most serious violations immediately.
Among the top issues cited by in OSHA’s five-page “Hazard Alert”:
- Workers who are injured on-the-job are sent to a First Aid station for treatment by one of three emergency medical technicians who are not licensed in that state. Also, those EMTs are overseen by an administrator who has no medical training.
- The EMTs do not speak Spanish or Creole, as many employees do, and therefore require a translator to treat medical issues – a violation of health privacy laws.
- The physician who signs off on the company’s medical directives does not review its medical logs and has no formal contact with the company.
- The First Aid station, which is supposed to be for treatment of acute injuries, is being used for employees with long-term, repetitive motion musculoskeletal injuries, like carpal tunnel syndrome and tendinitis. This, OSHA states, has allowed the company to avoid reporting those injuries to state and federal authorities, as required. More than half of the 206 workers seen by EMTs in a given time were for musculoskeletal injuries.
Repetitive motion, musculoskeletal injuries are common in the manufacturing sector, and employers have a responsibility to do everything they can to make the workplace safe and provide proper, prompt treatment of worker injuries.
Yet OSHA found that workers who asked for a doctor’s referral for such injuries didn’t receive one in a timely manner – if they got it at all. Only 15 percent of all musculoskeletal injury cases were referred to a doctor. Further, of the seven workers who decided to refer themselves to a doctor, six were later fired. Three of those had a “no re-hire” comment added on to their medical records with the company.
In reviewing the medical records by the First Aid station EMTs, inspectors with OSHA found they often used words like, “alleged” when documenting a worker’s symptoms. This, OSHA said, was a clear indication employee complaints of injury were treated with skepticism and distrust. The symptoms are often doubted, OSHA said, unless the worker can clearly prove otherwise.
This is true even though those type of repetitive motion injuries are extremely common in meat and poultry processing industries.
The OSHA hazard letter was a follow-up to a citation in June in which the company was fined $38,000 for nine safety violations. Although the company is appealing that finding, OSHA still insists these other issues need to be fixed because workers are being put at risk under current practices.
Specifically, OSHA wants more on-site monitoring of employee work sites, it wants workers to be trained to recognize their injuries and instructed on how to manage those issues when they arise. The agency also recommended the company contract with a certified industrial engineer or professional ergonomist who can assess current practices and find ways to limit repetitive motion injuries.
The company was also cited for failure to illuminate exits, refusing to give employees bathroom breaks and providing inadequate documentation of worker injuries, employee training and inspections of equipment.
For information on Atlanta work injury compensation, contact J. Franklin Burns, P.C., at 1-404-303-7770.