<$BlogRSDUrl$> The Cyberactivist

Behind the scenes of the fight for the protection of animals and workers and the preservation of the environment - my experiences as a Tyson slaughterhouse hanger/killer turned activist. Exposing the evils of factory farming, by Virgil Butler. If you have arrived here looking for the Tyson stories, view the early archives. Some of them are now featured on the sidebar for easy searching.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

How Dangerous are Meatpacking Jobs? 

Very. As the report I linked to from Human rights Watch pointed out, they are some of the worst and the accidents happen to the most vulnerable, especially undocumented workers.

Here are just a few of the things that have happened just in the past year or so:

(written on 2/17/04 on Meatingplace site)
A worker at an Iowa meatpacking plant was killed last weekend when he fell into a rendering machine and was crushed, the Associated Press reported.

Police said the incident at Pine Ridge Farms, formerly Iowa Packing Co. in Des Moines appeared to be an accident.

Raul Perez-Rojas, 36, was standing on top of the machine when he fell into it on Sunday,police said.

Perez-Rojas was breathing and had a heartbeat when rescuers arrived, but died shortly afterhe was released from the machine, officials said.

Firefighters had to stand on 8-foot ladders to free him.

Fire department spokesman Brian O'Keefe said he was told the machine was normally turned off when employees stood on top of it, the report said. Officials don't know why the machine was on when Perez-Rojas was cleaning it.

(2/23/04, also at Meatingplace)
A slaughterhouse worker in Australia was awarded more than $1.5 million in damages by the New South Wales Supreme Court aftersuing his former employer, Southern Meats Ltd., for negligence.

Abraham Emam, a 48-year old Halal slaughterer, lost his left eye in an accident at the slaughterhouse five years ago. On February 1, 1999,he tripped over a hose left on the slaughterhouse floor, puncturing his left eye with a newly-sharpened boning knife.

Since then he has lost his sight in both eyes, lost his job and his marriage dissolved. Emam was physically and psychologically scarred by the accident, suffering hallucinations in which he had visions of a giant figure resembling the Ayatollah Khomeini forcing his head onto a knife. He currently suffers from depression, panic attacks and psychological disorders.

Medical experts testified the problem was not physical but psychogenic, triggered by psychiatric disorders.

Emam told the court his life has been "like hell" since the accident.

"Leaving a hose on the floor would obviously constitute a realdanger," said Justice Michael Adams. "Had the hose been properly stored, the accident would not have happened.

"The life he led and the aspirations that he had as an individual, as part of a family and in the community have been blasted and he is largely without the personal resources to rebuild," he added.

Adams awarded Emam $1,551,793 in damages, including $375,147 for lostfuture earnings and $361,900 for future care.

Emam, who did not appear in court for the verdict, was "very happy with the result," said his attorney.

(don't know if this link is still active, but you can bet I posted it in the group)
The artile is entitled, "Jobs More Deadly for Mexicans."

Here are a few excerpts:

The jobs that lure Mexican workers to the United States are killing them in a worsening epidemic that is now claiming a victim a day, an Associated Press investigation has found.

Though Mexicans often take the most hazardous jobs, they are more likely than others to be killed even when doing similarly risky work.

The death rates are greatest in several Southern and Western states, where a Mexican worker is four times more likely to die than the average U.S.-born worker.

These accidental deaths are almost always preventable and often gruesome: Workers are impaled, shredded in machinery, buried alive. Some are as young as 15.

Mexican death rates are rising even as the U.S. workplace grows safer overall. In the mid-1990s, Mexicans were about 30 percent more likely to die than native-born workers; now they are about 80 percent more likely.

Deaths among Mexicans increased faster than their population in the United States. Between 1996 and 2002, as the number of Mexican workers grew by about half, from 4 million to 6 million, the number of deaths rose by about two-thirds, from 241 to 387. Deaths peaked at 420 in 2001.

Why is all this happening?

Public safety officials and workers themselves say the answer comes down to this: Mexicans are hired to work cheap, the fewer questions the better.

They may be thrown into jobs without training or safety equipment. Their objections may be silent if they speak no English. Those here illegally, fearful of attracting attention, can be reluctant to complain. And their work culture and Third World safety expectations don't discourage extra risk-taking.

Simple precautions would save many lives, government records show. "Was not using any type of fall protection," concludes a government report on one worker who fell 150 feet. Says another report: "Untrained worker ... operated the equipment." Another: "Procedure was patently unsafe."

Though he was trained and wearing required safety gear, Jesus Soto Carbajal severed his jugular vein with a carving knife in a Nebraska meatpacking plant in 2000. The blade punctured his chest just above where the protective metal mesh stopped.

Sometimes a worker may misjudge a hazard. That was the conclusion of federal inspectors in the case of Manuel Topete, who punctured his heart when he tripped carrying a borrowed knife at another Nebraska meatpacking plant. He wore no protective gear because his job was to steam-clean meat, not cut it.

Soon after Topete gashed himself, supervisors moved his body and opted to restart the work line at the plant. Co-worker Luis Rodriguez, who described a geyser of blood pumping from Topete's chest, still can't understand it. "The foreman came real fast and turned the chain on. Why?"

Supervisors properly resumed work because they didn't know the severity of the accident, said a spokesman for the Tyson Fresh Meats plant in Dakota City, who called Topete's death "a tragic and unfortunate accident."

When Camilo Rojas died at a Georgia chicken-processing plant in 2001 -- his head crushed by a conveyor belt from which he'd tried to dislodge a packing box -- plant officials closed the bloodied production line, but ran two others that day

Criminal charges are rare -- fines more typical -- when employers are to blame. One exception is a California dairyman who faces involuntary manslaughter charges after two of his workers drowned in liquid cow manure.

Jose Alatorre was overcome by fumes as he stood in the fetid stew, trying to fix a pump at the bottom of a 30-foot concrete shaft. His partner, Enrique Araisa, died trying to save him.

Both men were full-time workers but, according to prosecutors, had no safety training. No one told them to ventilate the predictably hazardous air or provided a harness to extract a stricken worker.

"They didn't simply go into the shaft, they got the shaft," prosecutor Gale Filter told grand jurors who indicted the dairy owner. Trial is scheduled for April.

The deaths received a burst of attention in early 2001, but just 18 months later, at another dairy in the same small town of Gustine, a third Mexican-born worker died in the same way.

Mexicans now represent about 1 in 24 workers in the United States, but about 1 in 14 workplace deaths.

"They just don't know that they have rights and responsibilities," Reina says, among them, "the right to file a complaint."

Explaining that right is one thing, enforcing it another. Some of OSHA's own officials say their resources are insufficient and note the agency's own policies generally provide for punitive action only after an accident.

And these are just a few examples.
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