N.C. Poultry Industry Workplace Safety Prompts Federal Hearings Plans

February 19, 2008

U.S. Senate and House committees are planning hearings on worker safety in the poultry industry following a report by The Charlotte Observer on House of Raeford, congressional leaders and aides said.

“All Americans should be horrified at the conditions reported in this investigation,” Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said in an e-mail. He said he plans to hold a hearing this spring.

The Observer reported that House of Raeford, which has seven processing plants in North Carolina and South Carolina, had masked the extent of injuries in its plants.

Employees say the company has ignored, intimidated or fired workers who were hurt on the job. The Observer reported that the company has broken the law by failing to record injuries on government safety logs, according to a top Occupational Health and Safety Administration official, and that some seriously injured workers were brought back to the company’s Greenville, S.C., plant hours after surgery.

House of Raeford officials have said they follow the law and strive to protect workers.

“It’s unacceptable that in 21st century America any employees are subjected to inhumane and dangerous work conditions,” Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who chairs the Senate committee on Health, Labor, Education and Pensions, said in an e-mail. “The Observer’s reports vividly demonstrate OSHA’s ineffectiveness in protecting the nation’s poultry workers. Instead of strong action against abuses, its responses are clearly inadequate and our Committee is beginning an investigation.”

Kennedy’s committee plans to discuss worker safety in manufacturing, including the poultry industry, in a full-committee meeting in late April and a subcommittee meeting earlier in the month, a Senate staffer said.

Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., called the Observer’s investigation “disturbing and heartbreaking.” Dole, as U.S. labor secretary in 1990, pushed for federal ergonomics standards to protect workers from repetitive motion injuries, which she called then “one of the nation’s most debilitating across-the-board worker safety and health illnesses of the 1990s.”

U.S. Rep. Bob Inglis, R-S.C., said he will contact the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration about how the House of Raeford plant in West Columbia, S.C., was able to report no musculoskeletal disorders over a four-year period.

“That really sounds very odd, given industry averages,” Inglis said. “You got to wonder how that happened.”

Information from: The Charlotte Observer,

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