Groups demand slower line speeds at meat plants

Civil rights groups want the Department of Labor to respond to a petition they submitted more than a year ago demanding new work speed standards for poultry and meatpacking plants. 

Nebraska Appleseed, the Southern Poverty Law Center and 10 other labor rights groups sent a letter to the agency’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) this week asking for a formal written response. 

“The lack of any specific and enforceable regulation on work speed in the meatpacking and poultry industries continues to place workers at serious risk of permanently disabling repetitive motion injuries, and underlines the compelling need for OSHA to issue a work speed standard in order to fulfill its mission and the country’s interest in keeping these workers safe,” said the letter sent to OSHA's Assistant Secretary of Labor David Michaels on Thursday. 

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The petition submitted in September 2013 asked for limits on speeds, which are now as high as 325 cattle per hour in meatpacking plants and 175 birds per minute in poultry plants, to minimize cumulative trauma disorders and musculoskeletal disorders

In October, OSHA cited Wayne Farms, a poultry slaughterhouse based in Oakwood, Ga., for violating the Occupational Safety and Health Act’s General Duty Clause, which requires all employers to provide their employees with a working environment that’s safe from serious hazards that could result in death.  

But the groups say the clause is not a substitute for a clear and specific work speed standard that can be applied to all meatpacking and poultry plants.

“Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, OSHA has a legal obligation to regulate work speeds on production lines in the meatpacking and poultry industries to effectuate its mandate to ensure that safe and healthy working conditions are established and maintained for workers” said the letter, which was also signed by the Farmworker Advocacy Network, Heartland Workers Center and the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health.