Meat processing plants count on the hard work of employees to turn a profit. Far too often, however, these plants overlook important safety measures that can make a life-or-death difference for their workers.

A chicken plant near Harrisburg recently failed a safety inspection by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The plant received citations in previous years for safety hazards. Last spring, OSHA conducted another inspection after a worker lost his thumb in an accident with a mixing machine. The inspection revealed numerous safety violations – many of them serious – resulting in proposed fines of more than $300,000.

The case sheds light on the many dangers meat plant workers face on a daily basis, including:

  • High noise levels – Without enough sound-proofing or ear protection, workers can suffer permanent hearing damage from exposure to constant noise at high decibel levels.
  • Flammable substances – Propane, nitrogen and other flammable substances must be properly stored to reduce the risk of fires and explosions. Employees who handle these substances should also have adequate training and protective gear.
  • Unsanitary conditions – Employees in meat processing plants are exposed to animal blood and fecal matter that can spread disease. Safe handling measures are essential for keeping employees healthy.
  • Inadequate gear – Processing plants must provide gloves, ear protection, eye protection, proper footwear and other safety gear for certain employees, depending on their jobs and working conditions.
  • Dangerous machinery – Safety guards, thorough training and proper maintenance can help reduce the risk of potentially deadly equipment accidents.
  • Fall hazards – Manholes, platforms and other hazards must have appropriate covers, railings or guards to prevent falls.

Employees who are worried about their health or safety at work should never keep silent. The law protects those who speak up and report safety violations.