OSHA hits poultry producer Pilgrim’s Pride, UFCW calls “medical malfeasance”

LIVE OAK, Fla. – The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited a big poultry product firm, Pilgrim’s Pride, not just for safety and health violations, but for what the United Food and Commercial Workers – which represents 70,000 other poultry workers – calls “medical malfeasance” in treating the injured.

OSHA does not actually use that term in its citations, issued July 25, from earlier inspections of the Pilgrim’s Pride plant in Live Oak, Fla. But its citation language is very blunt and it fined the firm $78,175 for 14 serious violations and eight other-than-serious violations.

Pilgrim’s Pride “did not furnish a place of employment free from the recognized hazards likely to cause or serious physical harm” to workers, OSHA said. It “delayed evaluation, care and/or treatment from a medical provider, which could result in serious health hazards such as, but not limited to, increased risk of further injury, prolonged healing, exacerbation of pain and limited recovery” by the injured workers.

Even before OSHA’s February inspection of the entire plant, the first serious violation citation added, Pilgrim’s Pride “failed to make timely and appropriate medical referrals for employees with injuries related to chronic and acute exposures and incidents, heavy lifting and persistent and continuous pain” in their hands and arms. As a result, many workers suffered musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), also called ergonomic injuries. Other workers suffered “burns, loss of consciousness and blunt-force trauma” while on the job.

“Referring an employee for medical attention in a timely manner is critical to prevent musculoskeletal disorders or further injury,” stated Brian Sturtecky, OSHA’s area director in Jacksonville. “Having employees visit a first-aid room for ‘in-house treatment’ over a course of weeks or months without a referral to a physician can lead to additional long-lasting injuries.”

The agency said Pilgrim’s Pride should take a whole host of corrective actions, starting with consulting with doctors who specialize in job safety and health. It also should have onsite medical management so doctors can intervene early to stop injuries before they worsen and restrictions for injured workers with doctors supervising to ensure restrictions actually stay on.

And OSHA wants Pilgrim’s Pride to train workers and doctors in preventing MSDs and in how to evaluate specific risk factors in poultry plants. It wants plant managers to stop ordering workers to use non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs – painkillers – to mask injuries.

The medical malfeasance angered UFCW President Marc Perrone, who noted union-represented poultry workers suffer far less than their non-union counterparts at Pilgrim’s Pride.

“We are disappointed to see yet another example of poultry workers being mistreated and forced to endure harsh working conditions,” he stated. At UFCW, “We make sure workers can advocate for their well-being without the fear of being fired. As we strive to improve poultry industry jobs, we applaud OSHA for actively supporting the right of every worker to have a safe workplace.”      

Photo: Pilgrims Pride workers. |  UFCW Safety and Health


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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