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GAO says meat, poultry worker injuries underreported

Workers in the meat industry in Oklahoma and throughout the country might be facing injury at higher rates than are being officially reported, according to the Government Accountability Office. While injuries are down overall, the GAO identified a number of factors that may be keeping those rates underreported.

One is that meat and poultry workers are often immigrants or refugees who are concerned about their jobs and do not report injuries as a result. Language barriers can also be a problem. The GAO also found evidence that medical staff discouraged workers from leaving the line. One worker was not referred to a physician until after visiting the nursing station 90 times. Another problem is that workers may be employed by third-party contractors. This means that the meat and poultry facilities where they work are not responsible for industry reporting of incidents as serious as amputations and fatalities.

The findings of the GAO are in line with those of employee advocates who have long complained that rates of actual workplace injuries do not appear to match reports. Multiple organizations have reported issues with employees ranging from work speeds that increase the changes of carpal tunnel syndrome to denying workers bathroom breaks.

As these findings demonstrate, workers need protection from employers who may try to violate their rights. Workers who are injured may be unaware of those rights, and employers may try to prevent them from accessing medical care and filing for workers' compensation benefits. Retaliation could include threats, intimidation, demotion or termination. Injured workers might want to meet with an attorney to determine how best to proceed.

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