Poultry workers cut and trim chicken as it moves along a line. According to a worker advocacy group, poultry workers may make specific cuts thousands of times each shift. Credit: Photo courtesy of National Chicken Council/GAO-16-337

Working at a poultry plant has always been dangerous. Government Accountability Office reports have consistently found that injury rates in these plants are higher than the national average.

The industry points out that injury rates have decreased over the years. But the National Employment Law Center parsed the injury data and found poultry plants, especially major companies Tyson and JBS, are near the top of the list when it comes to severe injuries.

In the past three decades, the poultry industry has averaged about eight deaths a year among all plants across the country. But the number has jumped this year because of COVID-19.

The Trump administration has largely failed to protect workers during the pandemic, and it has routinely sided with employers. Whether workers receive any help will likely depend on the new Biden administration.

DATA ANALYSIS: This analysis compares data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries for years 1992 through 2018 and the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting’s tracking of COVID-19 cases and deaths in meatpacking plants for 2020. Poultry plants were identified in the BLS data with the NAICS code 311615. The Midwest Center confirmed the poultry plants in its database had the same NAICS code by searching through OSHA’s Establishment Search database, which includes the codes for establishments the agency has inspected. Data on poultry plant deaths for 2019 was not available. The 2019 fatal injury census was released Wednesday, but did not include information on poultry plants.

Type of work:

Sky Chadde has covered the agriculture industry for Investigate Midwest since 2019 and spent much of 2020 focused on the crisis of COVID-19 in meatpacking plants, which included collecting and analyzing...

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