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    Subject Term: "Meat packing industry"

    2 publications with a total of 10 open recommendations
    Director: Cindy Brown Barnes
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    7 open recommendations
    Recommendation: The Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health should take additional steps to encourage workers to disclose sensitive concerns during OSHA inspections of meat and poultry plants; for example, by considering additional off-site interviews or exploring other options to obtain information anonymously. (Recommendation 1)

    Agency: Department of Labor: Occupational Safety and Health Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: OSHA did not state whether it concurred with this recommendation. The agency noted that it fully supports the idea of continuous improvement of its processes that would expand its ability to identify and address hazards before an injury, illness, or fatality occurs. However, OSHA noted that it would be challenging to conduct offsite interviews in terms of witness cooperation, resources, and inspector safety. We continue to believe that OSHA should take steps to enhance reporting by meat and poultry workers. Our report describes meat and poultry workers' reluctance to report injuries, illnesses, and hazards to OSHA because of their fear of employer retaliation. OSHA's Field Operations Manual highlights the importance of a free and open exchange of information between OSHA inspectors and employees for conducting effective inspections. Conducting additional offsite interviews is one way to encourage employee reporting. However, there may be alternative additional steps OSHA could take to better position it to encourage workers to disclose sensitive concerns, consistent with this recommendation.
    Recommendation: The Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health should gather more information, such as by asking workers during meat and poultry plant inspections, to determine the extent to which bathroom access is a problem and how to address any identified issues. (Recommendation 2)

    Agency: Department of Labor: Occupational Safety and Health Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: OSHA neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation. The agency stated it could not commit to routinely asking about bathroom access at each meat and poultry inspection. OSHA stated that each inspection requires a flexible approach to address unique worksite hazards. Also, they do not routinely ask questions about any potential hazards that go beyond the scope of a complaint inspection, unless those hazards are in plain sight. However, our report notes that OSHA does require inspectors at poultry plants to consistently investigate other specific hazards, such as ergonomics hazards. We highlight the challenges meat and poultry workers may face gaining timely access to bathrooms. However, workers might not volunteer access information to OSHA. We identified a mismatch between the concerns we heard from workers and the problems reported by OSHA. Better understanding the scope of bathroom access problems would better position OSHA to respond appropriately. Further, OSHA may choose to address this issue without routinely asking workers about bathroom access, such as by selectively querying workers based on criteria determined by the agency.
    Recommendation: The Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health should update its guidance for employers on how to manage their health units to address the challenges of managing these units. (Recommendation 3)

    Agency: Department of Labor: Occupational Safety and Health Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: OSHA stated that it intends to revisit its guidance. We will close this recommendation when the agency updates its guidance.
    Recommendation: The Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health should work with FSIS to assess the implementation of the MOU and make any needed changes to ensure improved collaboration; and set specific timeframes for periodic evaluations of the MOU. (Recommendation 4)

    Agency: Department of Labor: Occupational Safety and Health Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: OSHA stated that meat and poultry plants provide an opportunity for the two agencies to work collaboratively to identify employee hazards and promote safety and health, but the agency did not comment specifically on this recommendation.
    Recommendation: The FSIS Administrator should work with OSHA to assess the implementation of the MOU and make any needed changes to ensure improved collaboration; and set specific timeframes for periodic evaluations of the MOU. (Recommendation 5)

    Agency: Department of Agriculture: Food Safety and Inspection Service
    Status: Open

    Comments: FSIS stated that it already has directives in place to recognize and report hazards affecting FSIS employees, and acknowledged that the MOU was designed to additionally have FSIS employees report hazards affecting plant employees due to the regular presence of its inspectors in plants. FSIS noted that in collaborating with OSHA, FSIS will need to ensure its primary mission is not compromised by undertaking activities that take time and resources away from its food safety inspection responsibilities. We continue to believe that strengthening the MOU and developing a mechanism to regularly evaluate it would help ensure that the goals of the MOU are met, and that leveraging FSIS's presence in plants provides the federal government with a cost-effective opportunity to protect worker safety and health.
    Recommendation: The FSIS Administrator should develop a process to regularly share the worker safety information it collects during its review of new chemicals with FSIS inspectors, plant management, OSHA, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). (Recommendation 6)

    Agency: Department of Agriculture: Food Safety and Inspection Service
    Status: Open

    Comments: FSIS stated that the agency already has a process for sharing chemical safety information with its inspectors. However, FSIS has not provided us with evidence that it has shared the worker safety information it collects related to new chemicals, such as safety information that is specific for dilution levels and conditions of use at plants, as noted in the report. FSIS also stated that it would take certain steps to share information about approval of chemicals with other agencies such as OSHA and NIOSH, but the steps identified did not include sharing worker safety information. Incorporating worker safety information would further help enhance this information sharing. FSIS further stated that some of the information collected during its review of new chemicals may be proprietary.
    Recommendation: The Director of NIOSH should consider including in the agency's research agenda a proposal for examining the extent of peracetic acid's use in combination with other chemicals in meat and poultry plants, and any safety and health hazards these combinations may pose to workers. (Recommendation 7)

    Agency: Department of Health and Human Services: Public Health Service: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
    Status: Open

    Comments: HHS agreed with this recommendation.
    Director: Cindy Brown Barnes
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    3 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To strengthen DOL's efforts to ensure employers protect the safety and health of workers at meat and poultry plants, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health, working together with the Commissioner of Labor Statistics as appropriate, to develop and implement a cost-effective method for gathering more complete data on musculoskeletal disorders.

    Agency: Department of Labor
    Status: Open

    Comments: DOL generally agreed with this recommendation and stated that its implementation would make a difference in working conditions in the meat and poultry industry. The agency also noted that resource constraints may make it difficult to implement. In June 2017, DOL reported that it is reviewing its options for moving forward and is exploring accurate coding and recordkeeping of MSDs and drivers for underreporting in poultry processing and elsewhere.
    Recommendation: To develop a better understanding of meat and poultry sanitation workers' injuries and illnesses, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health and the Commissioner of Labor Statistics to study how they could regularly gather data on injury and illness rates among sanitation workers in the meat and poultry industry.

    Agency: Department of Labor
    Status: Open

    Comments: DOL generally agreed with this recommendation and stated that its implementation would make a difference in working conditions in the meat and poultry industry. The agency also noted that resource constraints may make it difficult to implement. In June 2017, OSHA reported that it is taking steps to address certain chemical hazards that can affect sanitation workers. The agency noted, for example, that it is developing fully validated sampling and analytical methods for common disinfectant chemicals used in meat and poultry processing operations including peracetic acid; and conducted direct reading instrument assessments, as well as air sampling in employee breathing zones.
    Recommendation: To develop a better understanding of meat and poultry sanitation workers' injuries and illnesses, the Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to have the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) conduct a study of the injuries and illnesses these workers experience, including their causes and how they are reported. Given the challenges to gaining access to this population, NIOSH may want to coordinate with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to develop ways to initiate this study.

    Agency: Department of Health and Human Services
    Status: Open

    Comments: HHS concurred with this recommendation and noted the previous difficulties NIOSH has had gaining access to these workplaces and the potential resource commitment involved in conducting such a study. We acknowledge this access challenge and noted in our report that OSHA has negotiated access for NIOSH in other industries, hence the rationale for recommending that NIOSH may want to coordinate with OSHA. The agency reported that it would reach out to stakeholders, such as worker unions, USDA and OSHA, to discuss the range of types of study that could be conducted to provide useful information. GAO will await the progress of this effort and close the recommendation when the agency initiates a study.