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Oklahoma poultry workers take great risks on the job

As you and your family sit down to enjoy that turkey this holiday season, say a little thanks to the poultry workers who helped to put that bird on your table.

Poultry workers, including those who process turkeys in Oklahoma and elsewhere, are 60 percent more likely than the average American worker to suffer work-related illnesses or injuries, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Amputation is one of the greatest risks they face.

In fact, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited turkey processors at least 61 times since 2011 and levied fines totaling more than $350,000. One company alone was cited 16 times and assessed $238,000 in penalties after a worker's arm was unattached by a machine that should have been off. Doctors later were able to reattach his arm

The rate of injury can be attributed to workers being forced to work in difficult conditions. Turkeys, which average 16 pounds, are tough to work with because of their size to start with. When that's combined with slaughtering, cutting and freezing the birds in cold and wet conditions, the chance of illness or injury increases compared to Americans in other industries. In short, it's hard work.

The number of injuries or illnesses could continue to climb since global turkey processing is expected to reach a high of 30 million pounds next year, according to the USDA's Economic Research Service.

OSHA officials have taken note and are emphasizing worker safety in processing facilities in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Texas.

Representatives from within the industry said that injury rates have gone down over the last 20 years, but one expert disputed that, saying not all injuries are reported.

Even if just one employee in Oklahoma or another state is injured, that's one too many. An Oklahoma attorney with experience in workplace injuries and workers' compensation cases can help employees in poultry processing plants who are adversely impacted.

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