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Meat processors suffer inhumane treatment for fear of retaliation

A recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) finds that inhumane working conditions in meat and poultry processing plants are a pervasive problem across the United States. What's more, the "climate of fear" that exists in many such facilities has deterred whistleblowers.

There were similar types of safety breaches discovered across many of the plants in this study. Workers were commonly denied bathroom breaks, causing many to resort to wearing diapers on the job. On-site medical care was also a common concern. In addition, plants often used chemicals on the job that had not been federally evaluated for their potential health and safety risks.

As part of its effort to verify that government-defined workplace safety standards are being upheld, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) may conduct unannounced, on-site inspections of a work place. As part of this process, OSHA inspectors may conduct interviews with workers in the facility to gain a better understanding of working conditions.

However, according to the GAO report, this approach has its drawbacks. The GAO cites numerous instances of workers in meat and poultry processing plants who were afraid to disclose any poor or unsafe practices in the workplace. Because on-site interviews do not protect workers' anonymity--in addition to the fear-inducing conditions they already experienced at work--they were afraid of losing their jobs for speaking out.

The GAO report provides recommendations to OSHA to try to combat this problem, including encouraging workers to divulge problems that are highly sensitive as well as explicitly asking about bathroom access.

Unsafe working conditions should not be tolerated by anyone. It is important to understand the rights and protections you are entitled to as a worker. An experienced attorney can help you make sense of your options.

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