An average of 27 workers a day suffer amputation or hospitalization, according to new OSHA data from 29 states: Meat and poultry companies remain among the most dangerous
This is a guest post from Debbie Berkowitz and Patrick Dixon at the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, Georgetown University.
In January 2015, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) began requiring all covered employers to self-report all worker injuries severe enough to cause an amputation, the loss of an eye, or an overnight stay in the hospital. This requirement covers employers in 29 states under federal OSHA jurisdiction. (Employers in the other 21 states and Puerto Rico with State OSHA Plan agencies must report severe injuries to their state agency.)1
Updated data released by federal OSHA reveal that employers from the covered 29 states reported 74,025 severe injuries to the federal agency between January 1, 2015, and May 31, 2022. That amounts to a stunning 27 workers a day, on average, suffering among the most severe work injuries in just over half the states.
Top companies reporting severe injuries to OSHA
Out of tens of thousands of companies reporting, the United States Postal Service (USPS)—with 516,636 employees—had the highest number of reported severe injuries (1,142) between January 1, 2015, and May 31, 2022. Others in the top four include: Walmart—with 2.3 million employees—reported 571 severe injuries; United Parcel Service (UPS)—with 444,000 employees—reported 505 severe injuries; and FedEx—with 219,000 employees—reported 285 severe injuries.
Meat and poultry companies continue to be among the most dangerous
The data also reveal that meatpacking and poultry companies, with substantially fewer employees than the other top reporters, continue to be among the most dangerous industries. Tyson Foods—with 120,000 employees—had the fifth-highest number of severe injuries (279). JBS/Pilgrim’s Pride—with an even smaller workforce (78,000)—reported the 8th-highest number of severe injuries (185). Cargill—with 48,0502 employees—reported the 20th-highest number of severe injuries (86), and Smithfield—with 63,000 employees—reported the 22nd-highest number of severe injuries (80).
By comparison, other manufacturing companies, such as Ford Motor Company (90,000 employees), reported 41 severe injuries. Tyson Foods, with 33% more workers than Ford, had six times the number of reported severe injuries. JBS/Pilgrim’s Pride, with slightly fewer workers than Ford, reported four times the number of severe injuries.
Other companies with high numbers of reported severe injuries include Publix, Lowe’s, Walt Disney, Kroger, Coca-Cola, and Amazon. See chart below for the top 23 companies reporting severe injuries.
Packers Sanitation Services Inc.
An earlier analysis of severe injuries reported to OSHA in the first 21 months of the reporting requirement (January 2015–September 2016) found that a very small company, Packers Sanitation Services Inc. (PSSI), had among the highest numbers of severe injuries reported (24). PSSI, a subcontractor to hundreds of meat and poultry plants, hires workers to clean and sanitize the plants during the overnight shift.
However, in the following six years, PSSI has reported only an additional 22 severe injuries, for a total of 46 reports over 7.5 years. All of the other top reporters (the top 17) from the earlier analysis reported at least three to four times these numbers over the past 7.5 years. This raises some concerns about the accuracy of the data, especially in light of recent developments. In February 2023, PSSI paid a $1.5 million fine to the Department of Labor for employing over 100 children illegally in meat plants such as JBS, Tysons, and Cargill. That investigation began when a 13-year-old was discovered by a middle school nurse to have chemical burns, blisters, and open wounds on her hands from the chemicals she worked with in a JBS plant for PSSI. However, the company maintained they had no reports of such an injury.
Top 23 companies reporting severe injuries to OSHA, January 1, 2015–May 31, 2022
|Rank||Employer||Number of reports|
|19||Asplundh Tree Expert Co||92|
Note: This analysis does not include employer reports of severe injuries in the following 21 states (and Puerto Rico) because these states/territories are State OSHA Plan agencies and employers report to the state agency, not the federal agency, and the states do not make the data publicly available at www.osha.gov: AK, WA, OR, CA, HI, NV, UT, AZ, NM, WY, MN, IA, IN, MI, KY, TN, SC, NC, VA, MD, and VT.
Source: Occupational Safety and Health Administration severe injury reports.
The severe work injuries reported to OSHA, and included in this analysis, do not include all serious work-related injuries or illnesses. They do not include serious injuries that may result in treatment in an emergency room with no accompanying overnight stay in the hospital, serious injuries that do not result in an amputation or hospitalization but may result in broken bones and gashes causing lost time, injuries resulting in surgery with no overnight stay in the hospital, or serious health-related illnesses that do not result in an immediate stay in the hospital. However, the employer reports of severe injuries, though a limited subset of all injuries, are an indicator of safety risks and hazards present in companies and industries that needs to be addressed.
OSHA should use the data from the reports of severe injuries to better allocate the agency’s inspection resources. With limited resources, OSHA conducted only 24,333 inspections in FY 2022. Covering many millions of workplaces, it would take OSHA over 160 years at this rate to get into every workplace once. OSHA must therefore use all available data to better target inspections to the most dangerous workplaces and industries.
OSHA should make sure that the agency’s Special Emphasis Enforcement Programs include the industries with companies with high numbers of reported amputations/hospitalizations. OSHA must also use this data to open inspections following reports of amputations to ensure that inspections are targeted to the most dangerous workplaces. Further, OSHA should publish the severe injury data from the 21 state OSHA plans, which are not publicly available.
1. This analysis does not include employer reports of severe injuries in the following 21 states (and PR) because these states/territories are State OSHA Plan agencies and employers report to the state agency, not the federal agency, and the states do not make the data publicly available at www.osha.gov: AK, WA, OR, CA, HI, NV, UT, AZ, NM, WY, MN, IA, IN, MI, KY, TN, SC, NC, VA, MD, and VT.
2. This number is the figure for Cargill employees in North America, not just the United States. It was derived from two reports: https://www.cargill.com/doc/1432215917376/2022-cargill-annual-report.pdf; and https://www.statista.com/statistics/274780/number-of-cargill-employees-by-region/
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