Injury and illness rates in the meat and poultry industry are on the decline, according to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO). However, the report finds that hazardous conditions remain. The government also faces challenges in gathering relevant data.

Here are some highlights from the GAO’s report.

Overall trends and statistics

Injury and illness rates in the meat and poultry industry “declined from an estimated 9.8 cases per 100 full-time workers in 2004 to 5.7 in 2013.”

  • This rate decrease is on par with similar rate decreases in U.S. manufacturing overall.
  • However, injury and illness rates continue to be higher in the meat and poultry industry than in the overall U.S. manufacturing sector.

From 2004 to 2013, meat workers had a higher rate of injuries and illnesses than poultry workers. There were an estimated:

  • 7.8 cases per 100 full-time workers in meat slaughter
  • 5.4 cases per 100 full-time workers in meat processing
  • 4.5 cases per 100 full-time workers in poultry slaughter and processing

Specific illnesses and injuries

The report outlines several categories of injury and illness, including:

  • Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs)
  • Exposure to chemicals and pathogens
  • Traumatic injuries from machines and tools

In 2013:

  • “The highest rates of injuries that resulted in days away from work … fell under the category of traumatic injuries.” These are injuries that occur from a single event during a work shift.
  • Illnesses accounted for more than a quarter of all reported injury and illness cases in the meat and poultry industry.

Events that led to injury or illness include:

  • Overexertion and bodily reaction (40.1 incidents per 10,000 full-time workers)
  • Contact with objects or equipment (28.1 incidents per 10,000 full-time workers)
  • Falls, slips, and trips (16.6 incidents per 10,000 full-time workers)

From 2004 through 2013, 151 meat and poultry workers sustained fatal injuries, with the most frequent cause of death being transportation incidents.

Challenges and limitations

  • Underreporting: The report suggests that injury and illness rates may be underreported by workers because they could fear losing their jobs, and by employers because of concerns about potential costs.
  • MSDs: The report explains that “it is particularly challenging to gather data on MSDs” because of the nature of these injuries.
  • Limited data collection: Detailed data is collected only for injuries and illnesses that result in a worker having to take days off from work.
  • Sanitation workers: According to the report, the government does not have adequate data on sanitation workers because they may work for contractors and thus not be classified as workers in the industry.