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SPLC complaint: Company with history of safety violations endangered poultry worker

The SPLC has filed a federal safety complaint on behalf of a former worker at an Alabama poultry plant owned by Wayne Farms – the same company fined more than $100,000 by the federal government after an SPLC complaint uncovered safety violations at a different Alabama plant.

The latest complaint describes how a former employee was exposed to harsh chemicals and developed health issues that continue to affect her even after quitting the job. The former employee believes her co-workers are still being exposed to dangerous levels of chemicals used during the slaughter and processing of chickens.

The complaint was filed with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) late last month. The SPLC is withholding several of the complaint’s details to prevent the company from retaliating against the woman and other workers.

“This complaint is more evidence that the poultry industry has no qualms about sacrificing people for profit,” said Sarah Rich, SPLC staff attorney. “It’s proof that tighter regulation is needed to rein in the industry’s abuses and put a stop to this exploitation.”

In 2014, OSHA issued 11 citations to the Wayne Farms poultry plant in Jack, Alabama, following an SPLC complaint on behalf of nine current or former employees. The agency found that the plant exposed workers to dangerous machinery as well as hazards that can result in falls and musculoskeletal disorders, such as carpal tunnel syndrome. It also found that the plant failed to record injuries and discouraged workers from seeking treatment. OSHA’s fines totaled $102,600.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report that found injury and illness rates in the meat and poultry industry, which is known for underreporting such figures, outpace rates in the manufacturing industry overall.

In 2013, the SPLC issued Unsafe at these Speeds, a report that found Alabama’s poultry industry discourages workers from reporting injuries. Based on more than 300 interviews, it found that these workers – U.S. citizens and immigrants – are typically forced to endure dangerous conditions and silenced by threats of deportation and firing.

Nearly three out of four Alabama poultry workers interviewed described suffering a significant work-related injury or illness, such as debilitating pain in their hands, respiratory problems, cuts, gnarled fingers and chemical burns. The grueling conditions and health hazards have been echoed in other reports investigating the industry.