Meat/ Poultry Injury
At the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman, our workers' compensation attorneys will help you apply for the benefits to which you are entitled, and fight back if your employer/ insurer tries to downplay your injuries arguing there was some other cause.
When it comes to workplace injuries, reports have consistently shown poultry and meat processing industries to rank high for the most frequent and severe accidents. Although work conditions have improved substantially in these facilities over the last two decades, this remains one of the most hazardous industries in the U.S.
Of 14,000 companies in the 29 states covered by federal OSHA, three meat and poultry processing companies are in the top 15. "Severe injuries" in these cases are those that involve hospitalization, amputation or loss of an eye. Workers in meat and poultry industries reportedly suffer more severe injuries than those in construction, automotive, steel, and other high-risk industries.
Worse, the danger is likely understated, given the sizable number of immigrant and temporary workers in the field, who are at risk of exploitation. The U.S. Government Accountability Office reports the largest proportions of workers in the meat and poultry industry are young, male and Hispanic, with about a quarter of the foreign-born citizens.
Hazards at meat and poultry-processing plants in Massachusetts include:
- Loud noises;
- Sharp tools;
- Dangerous machinery;
- Standing or awkward positioning for hours on end;
- Repetitive motion;
- Exposure to strong/ dangerous chemicals;
- Slippery floors;
- Exposure to hot/ pressurized water.
Although overall injuries in the industry are down (30 injuries per 100 workers in 1992 to 5.7 in 2013), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers are still too often prone to cuts, strains, fractures, and amputations. Further, the Department of Labor reports it has trouble gathering information on injury cases within the industry.Worker Injury Rates Higher Than Reported
Although it's clear from the data we have that meat and poultry processing plant injuries are quite high, we also know these incidents are vastly underreported.
The aforementioned GAO analysis cited several situations wherein this was a problem. These included:
- Employees of third-party contractors who have suffered amputated limbs, severed fingers, and fatalities. Because they aren't directly employed by the plant, their injuries and deaths are not counted toward the total workplace injury counts of these facilities.
- Many plants have on-site clinics that will treat injured workers on site - and then encourage them to return to the line without going to seek medical attention from a physician. Federal regulators noted one case where a worker was referred to that clinic 90 times before he was finally sent to a doctor.
- Because many workers are immigrants or refugees, there is often a language barrier that prevents them from understanding their rights. Further, they may fear immigration consequences if they report injuries.
These are no-fault benefits, meaning you do not have to prove wrongdoing on the part of your employer or disprove that you were to blame. You need only show the injury was work-related and has caused you some injury that has resulted in medical bills, days off work and/ or the need to find different employment.
Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 152 § 25A requires almost all employers in the state to purchase workers' compensation coverage, and this must extend to all who meet the legal definition of an "employee." It's not unheard of that some companies will misclassify workers as "independent contractors," or deny benefits to temp agency workers, arguing they weren't the direct employer. Our law firm can help you examine the most likely defendant in your case - whether it's the plant or the temp agency. In some cases, there may even be a viable third-party liability claim.
Injury and illness rates among these workers can be impacted by:
- Amount of training;
- Quality of training;
- Employee turnover rates;
- Increased mechanization;
- Speed of the production line.
These are factors over which meat and poultry processing plant owners and supervisors have control. Injuries at these centers is not inevitable.
But when a worker does suffer a job-related injury or illness, they are entitled to coverage that includes:
- Payment of medical bills. This includes not just obvious physical injuries, but also for latent, long-term illness, depression or mental health problems. The key is proving whatever it is relates causally to your employment.
- Lost pay. If you miss more than five days from work as a result of your work-related injury, you are entitled to receive 60 percent of your average weekly pay (prior to taxes). Note that those five days need not be consecutive. Reasonable travel costs to and from medical visits.
- Other benefits. These might include a one-time, lump-sum compensation for loss of function in a body part or training you need to get a new job because you medically can't return to your old one.
- Death benefits. These would be paid to your spouse and dependents in the event your injury is fatal.
Injuries should be reported to the employer right away and medical treatment should not be delayed.
Although you aren't legally required to have a lawyer for your Boston workers' compensation claim, it's a smart move because many insurance companies will deny benefits. Even if your claim is rejected, an experienced workers' compensation attorney can help you try again. It's important to make sure whichever lawyer you choose has ample experience and a track record of success in handling workers' compensation claims.Workers' Compensation for Undocumented Workers
You are entitled to collect workers' compensation even if you are not a U.S. citizen and regardless of your legal status.
The 1997 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held in Brambila v. Chase-Walton Elastomers, Inc. that one's status as an illegal immigrant isn't a bar on receiving workers' compensation - even if the worker misrepresents his or her status to gain employment. That ruling was upheld in the 2003 decision in Medellin v. Chasman KPA. Finally, while Mass. Gen. Laws. Ch. 152 § 1-4, the Commonwealth's workers' compensation law, does not specifically make references to undocumented or illegal immigrants, it uses the phrase, "every person."
Further, these benefits are available even if you are paid "under the table," as noted in the 2002 Department of Industrial Accidents ruling of McIntyre v. Andrus.
Your employer cannot legally retaliate against you for filing a workers' compensation claim. That doesn't always stop them, though, which is why it's critically important for foreign-born workers to obtain legal counsel as soon as possible.
Contact the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman today for a free and confidential consultation.