Big OSHA Fine for Wayne Farms Poultry Processor a Win for Workers

Matt Shudtz

Oct. 29, 2014

Today, brave workers at a Wayne Farms poultry slaughterhouse have a reason to celebrate a milestone in their struggle for justice. With help from lawyers at the Southern Poverty Law Center, they filed a complaint with OSHA in April. They blew the whistle on conditions that included dangerous work speeds that caused serious injuries, as well as denying subsequent medical treatment, and the firing of workers who reported their concerns. The agency released some results from its inspection, proposing significant fines against Wayne Farms for the deplorable conditions the workers continue to face. OSHA is proposing $102,000 in fines, for everything from bad records to forcing workers to work on or clean machines that have not been properly shut down and de-energized. Significantly, OSHA has cited Wayne Farms for violating the General Duty Clause because the company exposed workers to dangerous ergonomic hazards. OSHA hasn't used that tool to address ergonomic hazards in this indury for over 10 years. This development shows OSHA's commitment to addressing the widespread hazards that poultry workers face, that CPR and other advocates have been talking about and that USDA failed to address in its recent rule that was supposed to 'modernize' the poultry slaughter inspection system. OSHA really needs a rule that addresses work speed in a comprehensive way. SPLC petitioned OSHA to draft such a rule last year but the agency has so far failed to act on it. Political and legal concerns seem to be slowing the agency down, but it has an obligation to put those concerns in writing and give the petitioners an opportunity to challenge the decision not to act. In the meantime, I expect OSHA to use what it learned at this Wayne Farms plant, and what poultry workers are telling them is happening across the country, to develop and implement a National Emphasis Program for the industry.

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