OSHA Issues Landmark Citation Against “Medical Mismanagement” in Northern Florida Poultry Plant

Workers in a chicken processing facility. Photo: Workday Minnesota/Earl Dotter, Oxfam America.

By Mike Elk

Last week, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a landmark citation against a Pilgrim’s Pride chicken slaughterhouse and processing facility in Live Oaks, Florida. Among other serious violations, OSHA cited the company for failing to promptly refer injured workers to medical attention. Instead, the company, one of the largest chicken producers in the world, relied on in-house medical treatment. The citation marks the first time that OSHA has ever cited a company for such a violation.

In efforts to keep worker compensation insurance rates low, companies routinely insist that injured workers first visit their in-house medical professionals. Many employers have rules requiring workers to first get approval before leaving work to seek medical attention; thus many workers who get hurt on the job do not seek help right away out of fear of being terminated.

Employers worry that if workers get outside medical attention that they will report the injury and be encouraged to file worker compensation claims. By delaying the initial examination period, employers can claim in court that the injury did not occur at work and thus was not the employer’s responsibility.

“Referring an employee for medical attention in a timely manner is critical in order to prevent musculoskeletal disorders or further injury,” said Brian Sturtecky, OSHA’s area director in Jacksonville, in issuing the citation. “Having employees visit a first-aid room for ‘in-house treatment’ over a course of weeks or months without a referral to a physician can lead to additional long-lasting injuries for employees.”

The results of delayed medical attention for workers injured on the job have often proved fatal. Last year, an investigation by Dave Jamieson of the Huffington Post found that Amazon warehouse contract workers employed by Integrity Staffing Solutions in Chester, Virginia were instructed not to call 911 if a worker got hurt on the job. Thus in January of 2013, a worker suffering a heart attack was left unconscious on the floor for nine minutes before the decision to call 911 was made.

“For too long, poultry companies’ treatment of workers has been degrading, dangerous and immoral,” said Deborah Berkowitz, a workplace safety expert at the National Employment Law Project and former OSHA chief of staff. “With the Department of Labor’s first-ever citation yesterday regarding delayed medical evaluation and treatment for worker injuries on the job, we now know that this treatment is also illegal.”

The landmark citation by OSHA could open the door to the agency issuing more citations to companies that refuse outside medical attention to those injured on the job. Earlier this year, OSHA demanded that workplace injury data begin to be published in an online database. This will enable what many workplace safety advocates suggest is a key part in preventing injuries on the job: drawing more attention to how commonly they occur.

“By targeting the poultry industry across the South and Southwest, OSHA has already put this abusive industry on notice that its medieval practices will not be tolerated,” Change to Win Health and Safety Director Eric Frumin wrote in an email to Payday. “We hope OSHA will continue to devote its already thin resources to uncover such abuses at even more such low-road poultry companies. With the new higher penalties starting this week, perhaps the industry will start to listen.”


Mike Elk is the senior labor reporter at Payday Report and member of the Washington-Baltimore NewsGuild. He previously served as senior labor reporter at POLITICO and at In These Times Magazine. 

About the Author

Mike Elk
A protege of the late Bill Greider, Mike Elk is an Emmy-nominated labor reporter who covered the labor movement & the drug war in Brasil and spent years covering union organizing in the South for The Guardian. In 2016, he used his $70,000 NLRB settlement from being fired in the union drive at Politico to start the crowd-funded Payday Report. The son of United Electrical Workers (UE) Director of Organization Gene Elk, he lives in his hometown of Pittsburgh. Email: [email protected]

1 Comment on "OSHA Issues Landmark Citation Against “Medical Mismanagement” in Northern Florida Poultry Plant"

  1. On the railroad, managers have been guilty of following a worker to the hospital and getting involved with the medical process. Matter of fact, this is a common practice. Railroaders were cut into OSHA whistleblower protection under the FRSA of 2009. For railroad companies, hiding injuries are a big deal because the Federal Railroad Administration tracks the information, and railroad companies reduce bonus payments on managers if injuries occur. The threat of fines from the FRA and the reduction of Bonus payments has created a toxic situation that places managers in a very bad position. Workers fear being retaliated against for reporting injuries… I feel for these workers at the chicken plant… railroaders are protected by the Federal Employers Liability Act.. the chicken workers are not.

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