At one of America’s biggest packinghouses, livestock isn’t the only kind of meat getting butchered. Fingertips and thumbs are part of a strange new inventory at Tyson Foods.
The company, with more than 400 facilities nationwide employing more than 110,000 workers, brands itself as “feeding you like family,” but the meat industry’s raw brutality is coming to light with new injury data trickling off the assembly line. Professor Celeste Monforton of George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health posted on the Pump Handle blog about new data gathered through a Freedom of Information Act request on injury reports Tyson made to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) during the first nine months of 2015.
Monforton summarized, “Tyson made 34 reports to OSHA of amputations or hospitalizations…. Seventeen of the 34 incidents were amputations—an average of more than 1 per month.”
The injury reports are vague, lacking description of the circumstances leading up to the event or how the issue was addressed. But some patterns emerge: Most amputation injuries were reportedly suffered by beef-processing workers. The amputations generally involve bits of fingers severed when manipulating machinery (though one incident involved a worker having “both hands amputated” while cleaning a mixer). In many cases the meat-cutting procedures got botched somehow: At a plant in Lexington, Nebraska, on consecutive days in April workers sawed off fingertips while handling dangling cuts of meat. Also in April, at an Emporia, Kansas, facility, a worker “was working on the flat steak line running meats over the skinner when his left thumb was cut on the blade…amputating the outside edge and end of the right thumb.” At an Omaha facility, when a chicken marinade pump got clogged, a worker “removed the hose that was secured with a clamp and stuck their finger into the pump,” and got a fingertip lobbed off by the pump’s impeller. Other workplace traumas included falls and getting struck when handling equipment.
At a plant in Amarillo, Texas, workers were reportedly “exposed to caught-between hazards when operating fork lifts due to lack of training.” A worker in Carthage, Texas, was “hospitalized from a stab wound by another employee.”