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How safe will you be as a meatpacker in 2020?

Despite new regulations and advances in technology, workers in the North Carolina food industry continue to risk their well-being on the job. If you earn your income in a meatpacking plant, you will likely know that improved safety standards and reform in this industry failed to make meatpacking a safe occupation. Thousands of food industry workers suffer work-related injuries each year, and many succumb to their injuries.

Meatpacking is one industry in which many sensible workers will take their own precautions to stay safe instead of putting their health and safety in the hands of employers and supervisors. You might not manage to keep out of harm's way altogether, but learning how to recognize and mitigate the most hazardous threats could save your life or prevent amputation injuries.

Recognize slip, trip and fall risks

Safety authorities warn that these risks are present in all workplaces. The following hazards are par for the course in meatpacking plants:

  • The use of significant volumes of liquids in meatpacking plants causes wet and slippery floors.
  • Additional risks arise when water forms puddles in work areas.
  • Along with accidental spills, another cause for slip-and-fall incidents includes wetness caused by workers and forklifts bringing moisture in from outside during inclement weather.
  • Be on the lookout for loose floorboards, uneven surfaces and unsafe access to platforms -- all of which could cause trip-and-fall accidents.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration provides safety guidelines and strict standards for walking-working surfaces with which your employer must comply.

Machinery Hazards

Cleaning, processing and packing of meat involve dangerous machines that require the following prevention measures:

  • Machine guarding must prevent contact with moving and rotating parts.
  • Excessive noise without protection can prevent communication, which can lead to injuries due to misunderstood instructions, and you might not hear warnings about imminent danger. Long-term noise exposure can damage your hearing.
  • Lockout/tagout devices must prevent accidental or unintended activation of equipment during cleaning, maintenance or repairs.
  • Make sure you know how to use LOTO devices and understand the potential consequences of not de-energizing machines.

Avoid complacency -- the fact that you have never been caught or pulled into moving machine parts does not mean you can disregard safety precautions.

Toxic anhydrous ammonia hazards

This is a widely used gas in refrigeration systems in meatpacking plants, but its presence everywhere does not reduce the many risks this chemical poses:

  • Ammonia is highly flammable, and even at a concentration of as little as 15% in the air can cause deadly fires.
  • Releasing ammonia in an enclosed space in which an ignition source is present can cause a life-threatening explosion.
  • Ammonia has a highly corrosive quality that can harm your lungs, eyes and skin.

Among other safety standards, OSHA requires your employer to label pumps, compressors, receivers and ammonia pipes with warnings.

Your rights to workers' compensation

If you are the victim of a workplace injury, the most critical step is to report the injury to your employer as soon as possible after receiving the necessary medical care. While you recover and prepare to return to work, an attorney with experience in helping injured workers in North Carolina to obtain maximum benefits can navigate a benefits claim on your behalf.

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