Food Manufacturing

Lawmakers: OSHA’s response to GAO report on meat, poultry workers ‘troubling’

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Washington — Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) is among four lawmakers calling for Secretary of Labor R. Alexander Acosta to address their concerns over OSHA’s responses to a Government Accountability Office report, issued in November, on the health and safety of meat and poultry industry workers.

In a letter sent Jan. 31, Murray – together with Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) and Reps. Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) – wrote that OSHA’s rejection of recent GAO recommendations is “troubling.”

GAO’s report calls on OSHA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service and NIOSH to better investigate worker complaints. According to the report, GAO found a disparity between worker concerns and OSHA’s view of them, particularly regarding bathroom access, and recommended OSHA find ways to help workers feel safer sharing complaints – including conducting offsite interviews.

OSHA, after receiving a draft of the report, responded that conducting interviews away from workplaces is a challenge, citing issues with inspector safety, witness cooperation and resources. The agency also stated that it cannot commit to regularly asking workers about their access to bathrooms and only asks questions about hazards included in complaints or those in plain view.

In their letter, the lawmakers counter OSHA’s response with a quote from OSHA’s field operations manual: “[A] free and open exchange of information between [compliance safety and health officers] and employees is essential to an effective inspection. Interviews provide an opportunity for employees to provide valuable factual information concerning hazardous conditions …” and “interviews may be conducted at locations other than the workplace.”

In addition, the letter claims that bathroom access has been a complaint of workers in the industry since the late 1990s, noting that OSHA’s regional emphasis program for the poultry-processing industry in Regions IV and VI includes the language, “assessing the adequacy of toilet and sanitary facilities and worker access to them.”

The lawmakers are asking Acosta to commit to offsite interviews when necessary, and want to know why OSHA rejected GAO’s recommendation to ask workers about bathroom access.

“In your response, please inform us if the agency has reconsidered its position,” the letter states. “If OSHA has not reconsidered its stance, then please explain how the rejection of this recommendation does not undermine the purposes of the Occupational Safety and Health Act?”

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