Recently, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited a potato chip company in New York for 23 violations of workplace safety. The company faces fines of $115,500 for numerous worker hazards that could lead to serious injuries. Hazards similar to those documented at the potato chip company exist in Massachusetts’ food manufacturing companies.
New and recurring hazards for which the potato chip company was cited included exposing workers to amputations, obstructed emergency exists, and fires. These were similar to hazards cited in 2009 at the same place; nine repeat violations were found. For example, the employer did not make sure guarding was in place on packaging equipment, a peeler and a fryer. The employer failed to train the workers on unintended startups of machines. Materials were not stacked so as to make sure they didn’t collapse. Damaged electrical parts weren’t kept from service. Work areas were not clean or orderly.
Among the other hazards were exits that were blocked, lacking in lights or locked. There were missing guardrails and unlabeled containers. There was an unsecured petroleum gas container and multiple electrical hazards. 14 serious violations were assessed for those violations where the employer knew or should have known that death or serious harm was a real possibility.
Workers in the food manufacturing and processing industries are subject to physically strenuous conditions, including temperature extremes and dangerous equipment. Usually employees have to stand for most or all of their shift and they must perform heavy lifting duties. In addition to dealing with temperature extremes while operating machines that perform roasting, baking or drying, many workers may be dealing with very loud environments. These conditions are made especially dangerous because most workers in these industries work full time and many work over time.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that there were around 311,300 food-processing jobs in 2010. This figure included butchers, meat cutters, poultry cutters and trimmers that worked in retail stores or in food manufacturing plants. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that in these types of jobs there were 48 fatalities in 2009, 56 fatalities in 2010, 52 fatalities in 2011 and 41 fatalities in 2010. However, these statistics exclude meatpacking and slaughtering of meat.
In 2001, the Bureau of Labor Statistics called meatpacking the most dangerous industry with 40,000 workers officially injured per year. It was believed that there were many more injuries that were not reported because the industry so strongly discouraged reporting. Injuries have declined in this sector, but it still ranks high for severe injuries and illnesses that cause workers to miss work or require modified work activities.
Those that work in the food manufacturing industry in general are twice as likely to get sick or injured than those that work in all types of manufacturing. And the poultry industry, for example, has the 5th highest rate of worker illness.
Food manufacturers should take special care to make sure machinery works properly and has the appropriate safeguards. Tools such as knives, saws and ovens may require special training. Employers should encourage employees to wear protective safety gear and sanitary garments when appropriate.
If you work in the food manufacturing industry in Massachusetts and get injured or sick, you should report your injury or illness immediately and contact a workers’ compensation attorney. It is illegal for your employer to retaliate against you for reporting an injury or filing a claim. An experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney can file your claim and give you options in the event you are retaliated against. Contact us by calling 800-367-0871 or using our online contact form.