Your Chicken Breast May Have Cost a Meatpacking Worker’s Hand

When most of us go to work each day, we don’t expect to come home missing a finger or thumb. Yet that’s exactly what happens at least once a month at Tyson Foods’ meat processing plants across the U.S. That’s what Celeste Monforton, a professor of occupational health at George Washington University, found when she combed through workplace injury reports from America’s largest meat producer.

Monforton was able to compile these records thanks to a new law that took effect last January, which requires employers to report on any serious workplace injury involving hospitalization or amputation to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration within 24 hours. It turns out that in just the first nine months of 2015, ten of Tyson’s plants reported 34 such injuries, 17 of which involved the loss of part or all of a finger. That’s an average of more than one amputation each month. One particular grisly accident resulted in a sanitation worker losing both hands.

These incidents are troubling enough, but what makes them really scary is the fact that there’s reason to believe not all serious injuries in Tyson plants are even being reported to OSHA. For one thing, Monforton’s records come from federal OSHA reports, which account only for some of Tyson’s plants. The company has factories in ten other states with their own OSHA agencies, and those statistics are not shared in the federal records.

In general, experts tend to be suspicious of OSHA data — some estimate employers may be under-reporting injuries by as much as 30-70 percent to avoid being penalized. Sometimes the data on record is gathered years after the incidents occurred. If an injury isn’t seen as serious, workers themselves may avoid drawing attention to it for fear of being fired or reprimanded at work.

This isn’t the first time Tyson Foods has come under fire for poor workplace safety practices. Last October, Oxfam America released a scathing report about the terrible work conditions experienced by workers at Tyson and other big poultry producers.

Even the workers who don’t lose fingers or hands don’t exactly have it easy — they’re forced to work in grueling conditions without bathroom breaks or a chance to rest or stretch, performing physical tasks tens of thousands of times a shift that can leave them with crippling repetitive motion injuries. Despite occurring in poultry workers at a rate five times higher than other industries, these are not injuries you’re likely to find in the OSHA statistics.

When workers are injured, they may even be asked to come into work and sit in an office so that the days they’ve taken to heal aren’t reflected in official reports. Those with nerve damage too severe to continue working are simply fired and replaced, which has the effect of making the injury rates at a plant look low. In order to find workers willing to put up with this treatment, companies like Tyson tend to target vulnerable people like immigrants, refugees and prisoners.

So what does this mean for you, the consumer? If you choose to eat meat, it’s important to know where your food comes from. Companies like Tyson Foods consider both the animals they raise and the workers who process your meat to be completely disposable. Consider purchasing from smaller, local companies or butcher shops that process their own meat. If that’s not an option, simply eating less meat can also make a difference. If you’d like to make the jump to cutting meat from your diet completely, here’s a helpful guide we published a few years ago on how to stick to your new vegetarian diet.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock Photos

65 comments

william Miller
william Miller10 months ago

thanks

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus C1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jennifer H.
Jennifer H1 years ago

That's Tyson....

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Marija K.
Marija K1 years ago

I agree, Marianne C, meat industry on-the-job accidents are a lousy argument for not eating animals. Just like the commonness of injury in all professions is a lousy rationalization for being crippled working in the meat industry.

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Judie B.
Judie B1 years ago

Haven't bought Tyson products or frequented establishments that use Tyson products in YEARS--for reasons other than stated here.

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Fi T.
Past Member 1 years ago

Make it less expensive

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Neville B.
Neville B1 years ago

This is about worker safety generally, based on a report on Tyson foods in particular.

From experience at Pork Farms I know it's not just about saving money on equipment guards, or buying-off inspectors, but training and simple guidance. Among the many examples I could give is one of someone forced to work through unemployment there, who almost lost his fingers cleaning a meat-hopper. When he complained that he hadn't been warned of the danger, he was told "That's what happened to the last guy - how do you think you got the job?". I don't buy their stuff, or Tyson's KFC either.

It's nice for the more extreme anti-meat people to find it easy not to do this kind of work, but for others the choice is quite stark - do it or be sanctioned; and with UK food-banks being targeted by the government, that can mean illness, starvation, mental health problems and/or a turning to crime for some people. I personally welcome vegetarians, etc, pointing out their benefits (which has some people flying-off the handle), but please let's not be quite so hasty to condemn what is pretty much forced labour at the bottom of the ladder.

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Sherry Kohn
Sherry Kohn1 years ago

Many thanks to you !

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h masih
.1 years ago

Is there a petition?

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Terri S.
Terri S1 years ago

I always wondered where they got chicken fingers from.

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