The Most Dangerous Job in America

Sorry for the slow down in posts lately. My life got hectic with a business trip, moving apartments, then vacation, all back to back. But I’m back on track now & hope to pick up the pace on the blog again!

Just last week, the headlines read “Woman Found Dead at McDonald’s Food Processing Plant.” Although this is a single headline, this is not an isolated incident. Meatpacking is now the most dangerous job in the United States. The injury rate in slaughterhouses is three times higher than the rate in a typical American factory. Every year, more than one-quarter of the meatpacking workers in this country (roughly 40,000 men & women) suffer an injury or work-related illness that requires medical attention beyond first aid. And, there is evidence that the official numbers, reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, are an underestimate and that thousands of injuries go unreported.

Lacerations are the most common injury, but meatpacking workers also suffer from tendinitis, back problems, shoulder problems, carpal tunnel syndrome, and trigger finger (a finger becomes frozen in a curled position). The rate of these cumulative trauma injuries is much higher in the meatpacking industry than in any other industry. It is thirty-three times higher than the national average. Slaughterhouse workers make a knife cut every 2 or 3 seconds, adding up to about 10,000 cuts during an 8 hour shift, and placing repetitive pressure on the workers’ joints, tendons, and nerves.

The speed of the assembly line is an accurate determinant for the number of injuries at a slaughterhouse. The original meatpacking plants slaughtered about 50 cows an hour. Twenty years ago, plants slaughtered about 175 cows an hour. Today, meatpacking plants slaughter about 400 cows an hour. One former nurse in a meatpacking plant said, “I could always tell the line speed by the number of people with lacerations coming into my office.”

Workers desperate not to fall behind (and risk losing their job), are encouraged to take methamphetamine (often sold to them by their supervisors). The widespread use of “crank” in the meatpacking industry only makes an already very dangerous job even riskier.

Because most of the workers in slaughterhouses are recent immigrants, many illegal, they can be fired at any moment, without warning. They may have traveled long distances for this job, could have families to support, and are earning more than they could back home, so there is huge pressure not to complain, and not to report injuries. The annual bonuses for plant supervisors is often based on injury rates.

From a purely economic point of view, injured workers are a drain. They are less productive, so getting rid of them makes sense when there are plenty of available replacements. Injured workers are often given easy, yet unpleasant tasks, their wages are cut, and they are encouraged to quit. This causes non-visible injuries (hand pain, back pain) to go unreported and untreated.
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Breakfast: Lots of cherries!
Lunch: Spinach burrito from California Tortilla (Spinach, black beans, rice, tomato, onion, cilantro)
Dinner: Tom Yum Veggie soup (Thai lemongrass soup full of veggies, including broccoli, carrots, cabbage, mushrooms, bean sprouts, those mini corn things, cilantro, and noodles)

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One Response to “The Most Dangerous Job in America”

  1. Bea Elliott Says:

    Excellent point! The meat industry has got to be the most exploitive in existence. It pays the lowliest people to do the lowliest job – Anyone who consumes meat just perputates the cycle of misery and abuse. Thanks for spreading the word. 🙂

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