Chicken Council Touts Industry's Safety; Observer Describes Darker Side

Where it comes to safety, the poultry industry has a leg up on the rest of the food manufacturing sector, says the National Chicken Council, which represents integrated chicken producer-processors and whose members account for about 95 percent of the chicken sold in the United States. The rate at which injuries and illnesses occur among poultry processing workers in the nation has reached its lowest level ever and is below the rate found in food manufacturing in general, NCC reports, citing data published by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Interestingly, NCC's announcement of the industry's record breaking comes at the same time The Charlotte Observer is in the midst of publishing a six-part series called "The Cruelest Cut" that shows a different, much less flattering side of the business. Describing the series, Observer Editor Rick Thames says, "Our team of reporters and editors spent 22 months interviewing more than 200 poultry workers throughout the Southeast and analyzing industry documents. Their investigation soon led them to focus on one of the largest Carolinas-based poultry producers, House of Raeford. Its eight plants have been cited for more serious safety violations than all but two other poultry companies in recent years--and more than some companies several times their size."

Thames adds, "Our journalists found evidence that House of Raeford has failed to report serious injuries, including broken bones and carpal tunnel syndrome. They discovered that plant officials often dismissed workers' requests for medical care that would cost the company money." To read the series, visit www.charlotte.com.

Citing BLS data, NCC notes that for poultry processing, the rate of injury and illness in 2006 was 6.6 per 100 full-time workers, down from 7.4 in 2005. The rate has been cut to less than half the level of 14.2 recorded in the year 2000. That 2006 rate was below that of the food manufacturing sector, which was 7.4 per 100 full-time workers, and slightly above the rate of 6.0 for all manufacturing, according to the federal report. Detailed data are available at the BLS Web site at http://www.bls.gov/iif/oshsum.htm.

NCC says the industry's improvement is due in part to its partnership with OSHA, signed in November 2007. Under terms of the agreement, companies in the chicken and turkey industries began working together with the agency to implement a new alliance on worker safety, especially concerning machinery hazards. The numerous programs and policies in place and initiatives undertaken by poultry companies to improve safety include the automation of many jobs, the employment of full-time safety managers and registered nurses, training conducted in multiple languages, and the addition of on-site wellness centers at some companies.

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