Slaughterhouse and Packing Workers Face Horrifying Dangers

Posted on October 04, 2019

Slaughterhouse and meatpacking workers are subjected to unsanitary and unsafe work conditions that create a high risk of contamination and physical injuries.

Slaughterhouse and Meatpacking Dangers

The demand for high volume by large corporations that want big profits often forces workers in these industries to work in dangerous conditions.

Illness and injury is a major concern within the meatpacking industry. Over one million U.S. workers are employed in slaughterhouses and packing plants, but the industry is known as one of the most dangerous industries in the country. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the meatpacking industry shows the highest injury rate for workers over any other industry. Slaughterhouse and meatpacking workers report three times as many illnesses and injuries as workers in other industries.

Workers face daily risks of occupational illnesses, accidents, and injuries while performing their jobs. Lifting heavy animal carcasses, using sharp machinery, working on slippery floors, breathing toxic chemicals, and infectious diseases create significant health risks for workers.

Heavy Lifting

Large animal carcasses weight as much as 2,000 pounds. Workers are required to lift these heavy carcasses onto chains during the hoisting operation. Improper attachment of a carcass or faulty chains can cause a carcass to fall on a worker resulting in broken bones, crushed limbs, and internal injuries. Even when carcasses are well-secured, lifting this amount of weight on a daily basis often leads to severe sprains, torn ligaments and muscles, and back, neck, and vertebrae injuries.

Sharp Tools and Machinery

A variety of types of sharp equipment is used in the meatpacking industry. Machinery with sharp blades and moving parts like band saws and circular saws are used to cut up animal carcasses. Although technology has eliminated a number of hand-held knife operations, the hand knife is still the most commonly used tool by workers. It is also the most common cause of worker accidents and injuries. Knife cuts to workers’ fingers, hands, arms, and torsos are the most frequently reported injuries seen by Chicago workers compensation lawyers. Repetitive injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome are also commonly reported.

Wet and Slippery Floors

Many workers in slaughterhouses and meatpacking plants suffer serious injuries from falls. Because of the nature of the work, floors throughout these types of operations are usually wet and slippery most of the time. The accumulation of animal fat, blood, and bodily fluids from carcasses, as well as leaking pipes and poor drainage systems, create a dangerous working condition where workers face high risks of falls. As a safety measure, protective shoes with slip-resistant soles or boots with toe guards are required, but Chicago workers’ compensation lawyers still see slip-and-fall accidents and injuries.

Toxic Chemicals

Workers in meatpacking plants face exposure to toxic chemicals such as ammonia, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and polyvinyl chloride.

  • Ammonia – Meatpacking plants use ammonia as a refrigerant in coolers and a cleaning compound in processing areas. Contact with anhydrous liquid ammonia is extremely irritating to skin, eyes, and mucous membranes. It causes blisters and burns to skin, as well as headaches, vomiting, severe irritation to lungs, pulmonary edema, and pneumonia.
  • Carbon Dioxide – Workers are exposed to unsafe levels of carbon dioxide from dry ice used in refrigeration. Meat is stored in vats that contain dry ice when it’s frozen for packing and shipping. During the process, carbon dioxide gas often escapes into work areas. Breathing the gas causes dizziness, nausea and vomiting, headaches, and even death in high doses.
  • Carbon Monoxide – Carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless gas, is undetectable without proper equipment. Workers exposed through improper ventilation experience severe headaches, drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and breathing problems. Exposure can be fatal for workers with respiratory illnesses and heart disease.
  • Polyvinyl Chloride – Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is found in food-wrap film used in meat packaging. PVC film is cut on a hot wire, wrapped around packages of meat, and sealed by high heat which causes thermal chemical reactions. Workers experience breathing problems, eye, nose, and throat irritation, wheezing, and chest pains.

Infectious Diseases

Slaughterhouse and meatpacking workers are susceptible to a number of infectious diseases caused by bacteria. Brucellosis, a bacteria that’s transmitted through the handling of cattle or swine, causes joint pain, muscle weakness, fever, and headaches. Erysipeloid, a bacterial infection transmitted through scratches and puncture wounds, can spread to lymph nodes and the bloodstream. Leptospirosis, a bacterial infection transmitted by contact with the urine of infected animals, causes headaches, eye infections, muscular problems, and kidney and liver damage.

Although meat consumption is slowly declining in the U.S. due to plant-based alternatives, Americans still consume huge quantities. The average American consumes 270 lbs of meat each year. Safe practices in slaughterhouses and meatpacking plants are essential to both workers and consumer safety.