Earlier this month, the Guardian released a report that shines a rather dismal light on the meat industry – a notoriously dangerous segment of the processing sector.
Together with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the Guardian claims that, despite improving safety rates, you’re still three times more likely to be seriously injured as a meat worker than in other American jobs. And if you’re in the pork or beef industry? That rate spikes to seven times more likely.
The report cites an OSHA statistic that says there are 17 serious incidents per month in U.S. meat packing facilities, and that amputations happen an average of twice per week.
It’s all harrowing but it’s not exactly new – so why are we talking about it now?
Because currently the government is debating whether to remove regulations that restrict how fast the processing line is allowed to move. The USDA’s NSIS – or, New Swine Slaughter Inspection System – would remove speed caps from the processing line which, according to the report, would save the agency big money and probably add to the profitability of plant owners as well. But workers and unions think removing the caps will result in more injuries, both from repetitive motion and also accidents.
The North American Meat Institute, or NAMI, paints a rosier picture of the industry, and also the proposal to lift speed caps. NAMI points to a proactive industry that shares safety best practices for mutual improvements and cites an all-time-low for injuries in 2016. It says that eliminating speed caps is not about making the lines move quicker, but about allowing line inspectors to elect which speed they feel is “appropriate for safety.”
But other industry stakeholders are not swayed by NAMI’s logic. David Michaels, a former OSHA administrator under Barack Obama, responded to the proposal by saying this would “without a doubt” increase worker injuries.