A September 2005 press release by the Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center reports that North Carolina poultry workers show a higher than reported rate of work injuries, suggesting a need for uniform enforcement of safety regulations. This study goes along with a study of Oakland garment workers and a study of Las Vegas hotel workers (to be profiled) in describing the working conditions of specific immigrant groups within a specific labor market. All of these studies suffer from a limited understanding of the dynamics of workers compensation. The lead author declined to discusss the methodology problems with this study. Yet it remains a good introduction to immigrant workers in the poultry industry.
The survey was conducted by researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in collaboration with Centro Latino of Caldwell County, Inc. The survey was based on a representative sample of Latino workers in six counties in western North Carolina: Alexander, Burke, Caldwell, Surry, Wilkes and Yadkin.
Poultry processing is the largest and fastest growing sector of the meat products industry, according to the authors. In 2002, North Carolina and four other states accounted for 70 percent of all broiler production in the United States. Many of the workers are immigrants from Mexico and Guatemala, according to the authors.
Face-to-face interviews with 200 poultry workers found that 119 workers (60 percent) reported having one or more of these occupational injuries or illnesses in the past month: respiratory, skin, leg/foot, neck/back or arm/hand. Musculoskeletal problems were the most commonly reported work-related injuries. Thirty-six percent of workers surveyed had neck or back pain, and one in three of those workers missed work in the past 12 months because of the pain.
The injuries and illnesses varied by company, but on average exceeded rates that plants reported to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In 2003, a reported 8.1 of every 100 full-time poultry workers nationwide were injured or made ill. North Carolina reported a 9.4 percent injury and illness rate.
“The reported rates of illness and injuries in the poultry industry are likely to be the tip of the iceberg,” write the authors. “Workers often see the hazards as just part of the job, or they move on to other jobs as they begin to develop symptoms.”
The researchers also found that the prevalence of injuries and illnesses varied among companies. For example, 70 percent of workers at one company said they had an illness or injury during the previous year, compared to less than 30 percent at a second company and less than 10 percent at a third company.
The survey collected data on occupational and psychological health, safety training and the safety climate inside the plants. It was funded by a grant from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. In addition to Quandt, researchers were Joseph Grzywacz, Ph.D., Michael Coates, M.D., M.S., Antonio Marin, M.A., and Thomas Arcury, Ph.D., all with Wake Forest Baptist; and Bless Burke, M.A., and Lourdes Carrillo, B.S., with Centro Latino.