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Why slaughterhouse injuries are underreported

The government states in a new report that slaughterhouse workplace safety has improved since 2005. However, North Carolina readers may be surprised that illnesses and injuries are likely underreported and that the data federal regulators have collected likely does not represent all of the risks that workers face.

The Government Accountability Office reports that illnesses and injuries continue to be common in the meat sector. One hundred fifty-one workers suffered fatal workplace injuries between 2004 and 2013. It also determined that this sector of the manufacturing industry has the highest injury rate.

There were multiple circumstances under which the GAO found that packing plants may report fewer injuries suffered at work than what actually happen. In some cases, for example, on-site medical staff encourage workers to go back to work without consulting doctors for pain. A particular case that the GAO cited involved one worker visiting the nurse's station 90 times before receiving a physician referral.

In other cases, the workers are refugees or immigrants and may not report or may downplay injuries for fear of losing their jobs. Some workers do not receive appropriate safety training because of language barriers. Furthermore, sanitation workers who clean meat plant machines suffer severed fingers and limbs, and some die. However, a report is not always made because they are third-party employees.

Worker advocates note that there have been suspicions about the injury rates that meat companies report. A National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health study at a poultry facility in Maryland concluded that one-third of employees with injuries met the carpal tunnel definition, but just a handful were reported to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration.

In North Carolina, a majority of workers are covered under workers' compensation laws. This means that they could be entitled to benefits when they suffer a work injury or illness. Their benefits may cover doctor visits, lost wages and disability payments.

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