Chapter 8 Summary
The Most Dangerous Job
A walk through a meatpacking plant reveals workers herded like cattle, blood and gore, and mindless jobs done with lethal weapons. Meatpacking jobs are now the most dangerous in the country, and one in three slaughterhouse workers are seriously injured each year. Other kinds of packing plants work with animals of similar sizes so the automation and mechanization is greater. Cattle, however, vary in size—often by hundreds of pounds. The cut parts of each animal are transported mechanically, but most of the major work is still done with one simple tool—a sharp knife—on a “disassembly” line. Worker injuries are generally blade related or due to repetitive movement, such as carpal tunnel syndrome. Others include back and shoulder injuries as well as tendonitis. Employees are encouraged not to report their injuries because the supervisor bonus structure is based on workplace safety. Only about a third of the workers at Iowa Beef Packers (IBP), for example, are members of a union; the rest have no protection if a manager decides to fire them. The politics of keeping a job require workers to stay silent in exchange for an easier job while the wound or injury heals. The use of drugs to help workers keep up with the frantic pace of the disassembly line is a problem in many meatpacking plants, as is sexual harassment, primarily by supervisors to hourly workers. An even worse job is that of the sanitation crew, which comes in to clean up a plant at the end of a day after three or four thousand cattle have been slaughtered. Water mixed with chlorine is heated to 180 degrees and sprayed through power washers throughout the entire plant. Workers ride the conveyor belts and have to clean all the walls, ceilings, and vents as well as the mountains of refuse on the floor. Horrific injuries have happened to these workers in processing plants everywhere.
While the plants were attempting to increase production (and profit) by speeding up the line, the government was doing less to enforce the Occupational Health and Safety (OSHA) regulations across the country. Often the OSHA inspections did not take place because company records (kept by company management, of course) showed low rates of accidents and injuries, so they were not required or even able to spend time at these plants. So while the number of recorded injuries did go down in the ’80s, the actual number of injuries did not decrease. Eventually...
(The entire section is 628 words.)