One year ago, a sanitation worker at a meat-processing plant in Missouri lost both his hands in a work-related accident. Two months later, a worker amputated part of his right thumb while running flat steaks over a skinner (a blade that removes the outer layer of meat) in an Amarillo, Texas factory.
"Skinners. Band saws. Wing saws. Hide grippers. The names of these tools tell just part of the story of why these amputations occurred," wrote Celeste Monforton, a professor of occupational health at George Washington University.
Monforton was referring to the kind of machines that caused 34 injuries at 10 meatpacking plants run by Tyson Foods in the first nine months of 2015 — for an average of one amputation per month.
Monforton compiled a full tally of the amputations, obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request:
Iowa Public Radio first covered Monforton's findings. The details are available thanks to a new Occupational Health and Safety Agency (OSHA) regulation requiring that all work-related incidents resulting in an amputation or hospitalization be reported within 24 hours.
"We don’t want anyone hurt on the job," a Tyson spokesperson told BuzzFeed News in an email. "We’re continually focused on improving workplace safety and preventing accidents for all of our 113,000 team members."
Data from OSHA has long been considered inaccurate due to under-reporting by workers and employers, as noted in a report by Oxfam America last year and a Government Accountability Office study from 2009. While plants must report the number of days taken off by workers due to injuries, Monforton told BuzzFeed News in October that plants sometimes keep injured workers on site, sitting idly in offices, to avoid having to record the time off.
The Oxfam America report implicated all four of the country's largest chicken producers in unsafe workplace conditions leading to avoidable repetitive motion injuries and grisly amputations.
Tyson is America's biggest meat producer, and each week it processes 35 million chickens, 400,000 hog, and 128,000 cattle. The full tally of amputations at its facilities is likely higher than the number obtained by Monforton, which does not include information from Tyson factories in 10 states that run their own OSHA programs.
The Tyson spokesperson said that "almost 500 health and safety professionals work in our 100 or so locations. We have plant safety committees that involve management and hourly workers and provide safety training in multiple languages."
The company also recently launched new programs to improve workplace safety communication, awareness and education.
"Now more than ever, we’re stressing awareness about surroundings within the workplace and helping shape appropriate safe behavior for our team at all locations," he said. "We’re constantly reviewing equipment design and our processes to reduce risks throughout our company."