A newspaper investigation has found "Weak enforcement, minimal fines and dwindling inspections" at poultry processors that "ignore hazards that can kill and injure workers."
The Charlotte News & Observer investigation focused on failings in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and how it affects safety for workers. But the findings also open a window on conditions inside the plants that produce food for American consumers.
Here are the newspaper's major findings, in its words:
Workplace safety inspections at poultry plants have dropped to their lowest point in 15 years. The industry has kept steady employment over that time and has leaned heavily on illegal immigrants to fill jobs.
Fines for serious violations -- including conditions that could cause deaths and disabling injuries are usually cut by more than half to an average of about $1,100.
It has been a decade since OSHA fined a poultry processor for hazards likely to cause carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis and other musculoskeletal disorders common to the industry.
The federal government has made it easier for companies to hide those musculoskeletal disorders. In 2002, regulators lifted a record-keeping requirement that required companies to identify injuries associated with repetitive trauma. Workplace safety experts say letting companies lump those injuries with others on safety logs made them easier to hide.
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