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Gruesome injury prompts government to investigate conditions in a Tyson poultry plant

By Oxfam
Poultry workers face dangers from cold temperatures, hazardous chemicals, slippery surfaces, sharp knives—and more. This man sustained his injury at a poultry plant in North Carolina; poultry workers suffer amputations at three times the national rate. OSHA recently investigated a Tyson plant after one worker suffered an amputation, and issued citations for 15 “serious” violations. Photo: John D. Simmons / The Charlotte Observer

A “disfiguring” amputation at a Tyson plant in Texas led OSHA to discover the nation’s largest poultry company endangers workers by exposing them unnecessarily to serious hazards.

Over the past few years, Oxfam has interviewed dozens of poultry workers from Tyson plants across the country. They told us horror stories about dangerous conditions and grisly injuries. In response, Tyson told us about their policies and personnel about health and safety, and maintained that they value their team members.

This week, the Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA) confirmed what the workers report. After a worker suffered an amputation at a Tyson plant in Center, Texas, the agency did an investigation at the plant; in the end, the agency found various dangers, and cited the company for 15 “serious” health and safety violations and two repeat violations.

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OSHA says: “A gruesome employee injury led federal workplace safety inspectors to discover the nation’s largest meat and poultry processor endangered workers by exposing them to amputation hazards, high levels of carbon dioxide and peracetic acid without providing personal protective equipment.”

OSHA also issued fines of $263,498. While a small amount for a company of Tyson’s size (it’s the number one chicken producer in the company, controlling 23 percent of the market), OSHA was quite emphatic that the company is responsible for workers’ safety and health.

“Tyson Foods must do much more to prevent disfiguring injuries like this one from happening,” said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for Occupational Safety and Health. “As one of the nation’s largest food suppliers, it should set an example for workplace safety rather than drawing multiple citations from OSHA for ongoing safety failures.”

Among the dangers they found:

  • Amputation hazards
  • Unsafe exposure to carbon dioxide and peracetic acid (which is corrosive to the eyes, mucous membranes of the respiratory tract, and skin)
  • Inadequate personal protective equipment
  • Slip-and-fall hazards due to a lack of proper drainage
  • Fire hazards resulting from improperly stored compressed gas cylinders.

These findings are consistent with another recent investigation by OSHA, at a Pilgrim’s poultry plant in Florida. And they corroborate reports we’ve heard from workers at a half-dozen Tyson plants across the country. Ammonia leaks cause serious damage to respiratory systems. Malfunctioning machines cause amputations. Sharp knives and fast lines cause deep gashes.

In fact, Oxfam and our partners have been encouraging OSHA to take a more proactive role in investigating the poultry industry. As Oxfam launched our poultry campaign last fall, the agency announced a new program of greater oversight and enforcement of health and safety laws in the industry.

Still, the main target of the campaign continues to be the top four poultry producers in the country: Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s, Perdue, and Sanderson Farms. As leaders in an enormous, and highly profitable, industry, they can and must lead the way in improving working conditions for the roughly 250,000 poultry workers in the US.

While Tyson has strong publicly stated policies about working conditions in its ‘Team Member Bill of Rights,’ the reality inside the processing plants is actually quite different. Often, proper precautions are simple and inexpensive, and vital to safeguard workers. Oliver Gottfried, senior campaign strategist at Oxfam, notes, “Tyson needs to be accountable to workers and consumers about how people are treated, and deliver on its promises of transparency and accountability.”


Raise your voice today to Tell Tyson: working conditions in your plant in Texas are unacceptable.

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