A proposal for increased line speeds at poultry plants could increase the risk of accidents for North Carolina farm workers. The US Department of Agriculture has made the proposal in an effort to increase line speeds to service 175 chickens.
The proposal does not address workplace safety for agricultural workers. Agriculture is the top industry for on-the-job injuries. Workers at processing plant facilities and on farms have high rates of carpal tunnel, tendonitis and other repetitive stress injuries associated with their work environment. For example, according to McClatchy News, poultry workers make 20,000 cutting motions per work shift.
The USDA’s proposal is being made after over a decade of steadily decreasing work injury and illness rates for employees in the poultry industry. The majority of line workers are immigrants, minorities, those who are working illegally in the US, or don’t speak English, according to local news sources. What these workers don’t know about workplace safety rights in North Carolina (and in the United States) is that:
Injured workers, even if they are working in the US illegally, are still entitled to workers’ compensation benefits if they are hurt during the course of their employment. It is not necessary to be a US citizen or to have proper documentation in order to recover full workers’ comp benefits.
In the report, some interviewed workers discussed the challenge of keeping up with current paces (64 chickens per minute) and how it would cause jams and disruptions along the entire line. Instead of proposing increases in workers’ output, legislation should be proposed to create safer workplaces. Improved equipment, routine staff training, and logistically sound workloads should be implemented to protect employees. Companies can still increase their output over time, but they can do it safely and retain reliable hard-working employees with a better work environment.