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Data confirms all-time low injury rate in meat, poultry industry

Wisconsin State Farmer
The Meat Institute says newly released data contradicts accusations against meat and poultry industry by animal ag activist groups.

Despite accusations against the meat and poultry industry by animal agriculture activists, the North American Meat Institute says data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) counters claims that processors ignored the safety of its workers.

The annual BLS report for 2019 shows U.S. meat and poultry packers and processors continued their lengthy track record of  reducing worker injuries, reaching a new all-time low for injuries.

“The BLS report proves that year after year, meat and poultry companies remain committed and have invested billions of dollars to reduce worker injuries and illnesses,” said Julie Anna Potts, President and CEO of the North American Meat Institute (Meat Institute) in a news release. “Our members are proud of their record to reduce workplace related injuries over the last 20 years and will continue to adopt new technologies and methods to ensure the safety and well-being of its critical infrastructure workforce.”

According to the report, the  2019 incidence rates for non-fatal occupational injuries and illnesses recorded with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Meat industry results improved from both 2018 and 2017 levels, reaching a new, all time industry low of 4.0 cases per 100 full-time workers (per year). 

In contrast, in 2010 the injury incident rate was 9.3 per 100 workers per year. In 1999 the incidence rate was 17.1. A 20-year injury rate reduction from 17.1 to 9.3 to 4.0 illustrates the sustained industry trend of workplace safety improvement. 

The Meat Institute points out that this is a sharp contrast to the claims of those opposed to the meat and poultry industry that during the global pandemic the processors have ignored the safety of the men and women who work in their facilities.

“Just as meat and poultry companies have proven their determination to reduce injuries, they are remaining vigilant to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” said Potts. “They continue to check temperatures, provide testing, supply additional personal protection equipment such as facemasks and shields, conduct contact tracing, provide enhanced employee benefits like paid leave, and much more. Although the industry was challenged in the spring, numbers of positive cases associated with meat packing dropped significantly into the summer.”

In the early 1990s, the Meat Institute declared worker safety a non-competitive issue, which encouraged member companies to collaborate to find solutions that prioritized and enhanced worker safety. The meat industry, together with OSHA and the United Food and Commercial Workers union, also developed Voluntary Ergonomic Guidelines for the Meat Packing Industry — guidelines that OSHA called a “model” for other industries.

In August, the Meat Institute and OSHA signed a two-year alliance to provide Meat Institute members, the public, and other stakeholders with information, guidance, and access to training resources that will help protect workers.

During the two-year alliance, participants will develop information on recognizing coronavirus transmission risks and best practices for preventing transmission, and on challenges for exposure control in meatpacking and processing facilities.