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Proposed poultry processing changes have ruffled many feathers

Proposed changes to how poultry is being processed in the United States is raising alerts for more than 100 groups. The groups are comprised of animal rights advocates, environmental watchdogs, farm and food safety group-members, as well as workers’ rights supporters. Together, they presented a letter to President Obama, urging him to reject the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) 2012 proposal. The letter was accompanied with over 200,000 petitions also against the changes.

The changes, as proposed, would increase plant-processing speed by 25 percent. Such a boost in production speed could also mean that workers would be exposed to a higher risk of repetitive stress injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is what is known as a “Gillette injury” in workers’ compensation cases. The name is derived from the 1960 Minnesota Supreme Court case, Gillette v. Harold, Inc. In the case, a woman experienced a repetitive-motion injury from standing on her feet, while working as a sales clerk.  Upon ruling in favor of the plaintiff, a definition was provided by the court specifying that a Gillette injury is one that occurs during the course of employment as a result of a cumulative injury to the worker.

The USDA does not feel that the increase poses any danger to the workers. However, they have indicated that they will work with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, if it looks like this does in fact become a problem.

Not all injuries are the result of a single work-related event. As in this case, the potential for injury would not be evident immediately, but instead over the course of time. Workers who experience cumulative injuries, such as carpal tunnel, can also qualify for workers’ compensation benefits. Consulting with an attorney who understands Minnesota workers’ compensation laws is the best way to start to understand what options are available for work-related injuries.

Source: The Washington Post, “More than 100 groups argue against USDA poultry processing plan,” Kimberly Kindy, Mar. 6, 2014

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