Some work is inherently dangerous — that’s why it’s critical that workers have the ability to stand up and advocate for safe working conditions.
Basic workplace protections are crucial, regardless of your occupation. Whether you’re behind a computer or a conveyor belt, you should feel confident in your job security and even more confident in your safety.
When worker protection laws aren’t in place — or when they aren’t enforced — things can get ugly. You might get laid off and not find out for days. Worse, you might get injured, become ill… and sadly, you could even lose your life.
The meat-packing industry, farm workers, the timber industry… these are some of the most dangerous occupations in America. We know this, yet common standards for safety are not enforced. So, what does that mean for the people who prepare our food and make paper products possible?
Slaughtering animals and processing meat is dangerous work. Think standing shoulder-to-shoulder while handling dangerous, sharp machinery and working quickly to meet quotas; exposure to hazards that can cause permanent neurological disorders; long hours of repetitive motions that can lead to musculoskeletal disorders; and the list goes on.
When efficiency and profits top the list of corporations’ priorities, worker safety is no longer part of the equation — even when potential dangers are known (and are therefore preventable).
When efficiency and profits top the list of corporations’ priorities, worker safety is no longer part of the equation…
If you work in agricultural production, you’re working in one of the most dangerous occupations in the country. The injury and death rates for farm workers are significantly higher than for any other kind of worker — injury rates are 20% higher than average, and fatality rates are 7 times higher than in the private industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, on average, more than one farmworker dies and hundreds are injured in work-related accidents every day. And research has shown that cancer, birth defects and reduced fertility all occur in farm workers more frequently than in the general population.
In an effort to keep costs down, ag companies are becoming increasingly reliant on contract laborers — think undocumented workers, and others who are less likely to stand up and bargain for decent wages and safe working conditions. Safety protections and standards do exist, but they’re inadequate, and it’s difficult to put them in place and effectively regulate them. And when jobs are limited and workers become desperate (as is the case in many rural areas where agriculture was once a thriving industry), farm workers are even less likely to demand improved conditions for fear of yet another hardship: unemployment.
So what do the dangers of farming look like?
“Oppressive heat is common in every area with major agriculture. Heavy loads and repetitive motion strain workers’ bodies. Slips, trips, and falls happen on a regular basis. Irrigation equipment can electrocute workers. Tractors overturn. Workers can become entrapped in grain silos and engulfed in clouds of pesticides.” (Source)
Even here in Oregon, the conditions often unacceptable. Workers deal with limited access to toilets, sanitary bathrooms and clean water, and it’s been reported that some farm workers don’t have access to protective gear or adequate information about pesticides being sprayed nearby.
Hearing the words “timber industry” might conjure up images of bearded men wearing plaid and suspenders, posing with axes in front of felled trees. While that image might be reflective of last century’s timber industry, today’s more modernized industry is brings with it whole new sets of dangers. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, timber cutting is the most dangerous occupation in America, and in 2010, the death rate was more than 21 times higher than the overall U.S. fatality rate for that year, and 74 deaths per 100,000 workers were recorded (Source).
Lumber mill workers aren’t entirely out of the woods, either. Combine heavy machinery with high quotas and lax safety standards, and you get serious injuries as well as fatalities. An Oregon mill — owned by Freres Lumber — was recently in the news following the investigation of the death of one its employees. The investigation found that the employee was fatally injured as a result of inconsistent safety and health inspections. The investigation also revealed that this was not the first incident of its kind at the mill. The company, described as having cut corners, violated safety rules at least 14 times in the last decade, and there are several reports of serious employee injuries.
It’s vitally important that workers have the ability to speak up and advocate for the workplace protections they need. Workplace safety issues run the gamut from minor injuries to permanent conditions and on-the-job fatalities. We know that some work is inherently dangerous, and we know that in anti-worker states, where workers are prohibited from coming together and calling for improved standards, the death and injury rates are higher than in pro-worker states. It’s important that all workers, whether they’re in an office or operating heavy machinery, have the ability to stand together and fight for the workplace standards that will keep them safe. And for those workers who do the tough and oftentimes dangerous work that keeps our economy moving, the ability to stand up for safety standards is even more critical. We’re standing together for all workers, because we know that workplace safety is a serious issue.