Study illuminates plant workers’ fear of employer retaliation

The results of a government study released on Dec. 8 concludes that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration may not be adequately addressing the safety concerns of workers in the meat and poultry processing industry. Many workers in Pennsylvania and other states may forego contacting the agency for fear of losing their jobs, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office study. The study follows an Oxfam America report that indicated that a “pervasive climate of fear” exists inside some plants.

The GAO findings are based on employee interviews conducted at plants in five states. The workers cited concerns with on-site medical care and bathroom access, which often are denied. The evaluation also noted that a federal review of potential safety risks has not been conducted on some of the chemicals that are used in the plants. In response to these findings, OSHA has been urged to ask employees to disclose sensitive information.

According to the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association, National Turkey Federation and National Chicken Council, improvement of worker safety in the poultry industry is an ongoing concern. Because the meat and poultry processing labor market is tight, the president of the North American Meat Institute acknowledges that it behooves employers to protect the health of their workers so that they are able to perform their jobs.

Although the GAO study suggests that steps forward might be made, it does not appear to address the fear of employer retaliation. Because continued unreported safety concerns in the workplace could lead to injury or illness, processing plant and other employees in Pennsylvania may be interested in knowing that, in some situations, an attorney could help an affected worker file a workers’ compensation claim. A lawyer may remain by his or her client’s side as he or she navigates each stage of the legal process.

Source: Industry Week, “US Meat, Poultry Workers Face Fear of Retaliation: OSHA,” 12/08/2017