Confined Space
News and Commentary on Workplace Health & Safety, Labor and Politics

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

News That Isn't News: Hispanic Injuries Under-reported

Survey finds more injuries among Hispanics than reported to OSHA

Well, that's certainly a surprise!

Earlier this month, I wrote a response to a Washington Post column by J. Patrick Boyle, the president of the American Meat Institute, who was criticizing a previous Post column about the plight of meatpacking and poultry workers. In that article, Boyle argued that the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a 67 percent decline in total injuries and illnesses since 1990. I pointed out the massive underreporting of injuries and illnesses that had been reported.

Now that underreporting has been confirmed in a study by researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, working with Centro Latino of Caldwell County
A survey of Hispanic poultry workers in six Western North Carolina counties shows a high rate of injuries, one that is significantly higher than the number reported to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The survey of 200 workers found that in the month prior, 60 percent said they had work-related problems with symptoms of respiratory illnesses, skin conditions, injuries or pain to legs, feet, arms, hands, necks or backs. That compares with North Carolina's 9.4 percent injury and illness rate in 2003, based on numbers reported by the plants to OSHA and compiled by the Bureau of Labor.
Many of the problems suffered by the workers were painful disabling musculoskeletal injuries:
"Almost half of the workers reported pain in their hands or arms during the previous month, and one in five of those workers was unable to work for at least a day in the previous year because of the pain," she said.

Forty-seven percent reported poor or fair health.

The assembly-line work and the sheer volume of chickens processed contribute to repetitive-motion injuries.

The process starts with chicken catchers, almost always men, wading into poultry houses among thousands of birds, grabbing them up and putting them in cages for the ride to the plant.

At the plant, workers lift the chickens onto hooks. Men and women who cut and trim may make the same cutting motion up to 40,000 times a shift, according to the study. Floors are often slippery. Steam rises from the cleaning process that sprays hot water onto cold equipment. Workers who handle raw chicken in the damp environment often develop skin conditions.

Contaminants become airborne, resulting in respiratory illnesses.
And why he underreporting?
Researchers say that there are a number of reasons that workers may not report injuries. They might fear for job security or have a language barrier or not know they are entitled to workers' compensation.

Management has to decide whether an injury is work-related.

A cut or other accident might be easy to spot, but it takes a medical exam to diagnose a repetitive-motion injury from making the same cuts hundreds of thousands of times over months.
...and management generally doesn't exactly go out of their way to prove that a injury is work-related if they don't have to.

In addition to the workers working with "worker-advocacy groups and community agencies," the report recommends implementation of OSHA's 2004 ergonomics guidelines for poultry processing plants because there isn't an ergonomics regulations.

Seems to me that the fact that there are ergonomic guidelines instead of an enforceable standard is the problem, not the solution.

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