Your chicken craving is giving workers carpal tunnel

A study finds slaughtering line employees are in a lot of pain -- just as the USDA proposes picking up the pace.

By Jason Notte Jun 7, 2013 7:16AM
Stack of chicken carcasses (c) Frank Rothe/Photonica/Getty Images)All those chicken wings and drumsticks Americans consume regularly are taking a toll on the limbs of the folks who chop them.

A recent study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that roughly 42% of workers at a poultry plant in South Carolina showed signs of the painful hand-and-arm condition known as carpal tunnel syndrome. NIOSH experts visited the plant twice last year, examining workers who eviscerate, debone and cut chickens to prepare them for sale, and also found that the majority of workers reported "multiple musculoskeletal symptoms," most commonly hand and wrist pain.

That's one plant and 318 workers total, but the NIOSH says it's enough to call into question a proposal from the Department of Agriculture that would allow plants to speed up their slaughtering lines.

According to The Huffington Post, the U.S. Department of Agriculture proposed last year to pull government inspectors off the slaughtering line, where they visually inspect chickens, and move resources instead toward the detection of bacteria and other invisible dangers.

That switch would allow poultry plants to speed up their slaughtering lines and allow the companies to save both time and payroll costs. The USDA says the change affects only a small number of poultry workers because most of them work on the processing lines. But critics say a slaughtering speedup will likely lead to faster processing as well.

Though the NIOSH study was conducted at the request of the USDA, the agency wouldn't be required to alter or scrap the speed-up proposal based on any health findings.

While it isn't clear what, if any, bearing the NIOSH findings will have on the final rule, at the very least they offer a look at the day-to-day conditions of the line workers affected. Of the 318 workers in the study, 213 "reported pain, burning, numbness or tingling in their hands or wrists in the past 12 months." A full two-thirds of those 213 workers reported "awakening from sleep because of these symptoms."

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