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Does Pressure for Increased Speed in Line Work Increase the Risk of Workplace Injuries?

On January 2nd, 2012, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the USDA had announced plans to reduce the number of inspectors at chicken processing plants and to increase line speeds, requiring inspectors to inspect more birds more quickly.

This new change is part of a widespread trend in multiple industries to require line workers to do more work in the same amount of time. 1248971_chicken.jpg

Our Atlanta workers’ compensation attorneys are concerned about the impact of the USDA’s decision on line workers in chicken plants. We are also concerned that the trend of increasing the speed at which line work is performed could exacerbate the risk of repetitive stress damage and other injuries in jobs that already present significant dangers.

The Potential for Increased Industry under USDA Regulations
The current poultry inspection system has been around since the 1950’s but the USDA has been working to modernize it for decades, including studying pilot programs in place in 20 plants since 1999. In their efforts to modernize and update the guidelines, USDA now wants to cut the number of inspectors in chicken plants while raising the number of carcasses inspected from 140 to 175. This is a significant increase in the number of carcasses that a line worker would be expected to inspect.

Line workers are already under tremendous pressure to make sure that the food being produced in chicken plants is safe for the public. With this new change, these workers would be expected to work even harder… and faster.

According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the president of the Georgia Poultry Foundation indicates that there would be no additional dangers to inspectors and that workplace injuries would not increase. Others, however, disagree.

For instance, the executive director of Food & Water Watch, a consumer advocacy group, cautions that workers are not going to be receiving any new training nor will they be required to prove proficiency, which could put the public at risk. Further, the director cautions that the National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health study has not yet been completed in order to determine if the increased line speed will have an adverse impact on worker health and safety.

The Atlanta Journal Constitutional also published an article from the National Council of La Raza that indicated that line workers already experience carpal tunnel and other crippling repetitive stress problems. By increasing the speed of the line work, workers would be at even greater risk of injuring themselves.

Workers Facing Risks from Increased Speeds of Line Work
While there are conflicting opinions on whether workers in chicken plants will suffer injury due to the increased line speed or not, it seems clear that when a worker is pressured to do more repetitive work in less time, this can create a potentially bad situation for a worker.

A worker who has to do more with his hands will make the same repetitive motions even more frequently. This wears down on the muscles, ligaments and joints and eventually can cause health problems. Not only that but a worker who is asked to significantly increase his speed, especially without getting additional training or having to prove proficiency, can be at greater risk of making a mistake that injures the worker or others.

If you or a loved one has been injured on the job, contact J. Franklin Burns, P.C., to speak with an experienced attorney. For a free consultation call 1-404-303-7770 today.

Additional Resources:
Georgia Work Injuries: Government Releases Accident & Illness Stats for 2011, Georgia Workers’ Compensation Attorney Blog, November 7, 2012