Meatpacking facilities nationwide, including Illinois, are hazardous work environments. Even after improvement, employees in this industry continue to suffer a variety of on-the-job injuries. If you work in such a facility, you might be smart to learn about all the potential injury risks and take precautions.
The hazards start with threats posed by animals before the stunning process, by the stun gun, or while hoisting 2,000-pound carcasses. Crippling back, wrist, hand and arm injuries seem to be par for the course on the processing line, and so are cuts and lacerations. Cleaning solvents and heat-sealing machines can cause burns, and improper lockout/tagout procedures can lead to severed hands or fingers, not to mention the fall risks on slippery floors.
Obvious and hidden hazards
Some dangers with which you deal pose obvious risks that will make you cautious. You will recognize the risks of lifting heavy carcasses, and you should take care when working with sharp knives. If you work with, or near, head and bone splitters, jaw and snout pullers, cleavers, band saws and other carcass-processing equipment, you will be aware of the dangers they pose. Some hazards are not evident, and often only recognized after they cause injury or illness, and it is crucial for you to take note of those risks.
Cumulative Trauma Disorders
The repetitive use of muscles and tendons can cause tendonitis, which happens when the tendon sheath becomes inflamed. However, the most commonly suffered repetitive motion injury is carpal tunnel syndrome, and the following might help you to take precautions:
- Cause: Repetitive motions like bending your wrists and using your hands to grip, twist or squeeze.
- Impact: Overuse causes the swelling of tendons that run through the carpal tunnel in your wrist, resulting in painful pressure.
- Symptoms: It might start with tingling in your thumb and some other fingers, and if you do not seek medical treatment, you could suffer chronic pain and permanent numbness and weakness in your hands, shoulders and elbows.
You might not even be aware of your exposure to the following substances and the risks they pose:
- Ammonia: This pungently smelling gas serves as a cleaning compound and as refrigerants, known as anhydrous liquid ammonia, which could leak from refrigeration pipes. It is corrosive, and it can cause skin burns, eye irritation, burning throat, headaches, vomiting and nausea, and if you cannot escape exposure to the gas, it could cause bronchitis, pneumonia or death.
- Carbon dioxide: This gas may be present in the air in storage areas containing dry ice. If you inhale high levels of it, you might suffer dizziness, headache, nausea and vomiting, and it could even be fatal.
- Carbon monoxide: This is an odorless gas typically present in smokehouses, and improper ventilation can cause similar symptoms as produced by carbon dioxide exposure, but it could also aggravate existing respiratory or heart disease.
- Polyvinyl chloride: It is present in meat-wrap film, and dangerous thermal degradation happens upon its exposure to heat during the process of cutting it on a hot wire or using a heated sealing plate. You might experience eye, nose and throat irritation, and suffer wheezing, coughing, chest pains, nausea and breathing problems among other symptoms.
It might be wise to gain some knowledge about exposure to infectious diseases in the meat-processing industry, which include bacterial and fungal disease, and viral infections that could be life-threatening.
Your rights to compensation
Regardless of the type of severity of a work-related injury or illness, the state-regulated insurance program will likely cover any medical expenses that you incur when seeking treatment. An attorney who has experience in dealing with the Illinois workers' compensation system can assist with the claims process and make sure that you also receive a wage-replacement package for lost work days.