Accidents & Injuries at Louisiana Poultry Plants

In a 2014 report, the LSU College of Agriculture reported that poultry production was the largest animal agricultural industry in Louisiana, and was the second-largest in all agricultural production in the state. Poultry is big business in Louisiana, growing to $1.7 billion in value in 2014.

Unfortunately, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that poultry production is one of the most dangerous lines of work in the country, particularly in Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas, and Arkansas. The injury rate for poultry production in these states was 45% higher than the average across all private industry.

And it’s not hard to see why. Poultry workers process dozens of birds per minute, using scissors, knives, and saws to make forceful cuts quickly. Workers make the same movements thousands of times a day at a pace too rapid for conscious thought or caution.

In fact, in 2022 OSHA began a Regional Emphasis Program (REP) to address the injury rate at poultry facilities in Louisiana and the broader region. Given the size of this industry, it’s clear the problems faced by Louisiana poultry workers are likely worse than the rest of the nation.

What Injuries Are Happening at Louisiana Poultry Production Sites?

The main injury risk faced by poultry workers are musculoskeletal disorders, or MSDs. MSDs include damage to nerves, tendons, and muscles, which have long-term impact on quality of life. Poultry workers often end up with carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, and similar diagnoses. A 1994 study of poultry production in Louisiana found that more than 1 in 4 workplace injuries caused back problems; they also recorded a spike in repetitive stress injuries (then known as cumulative trauma disorders).

The rate of MSDs among poultry workers, according to 2018 figures, is 4.6 times higher than the average for private industry. The rate for carpal tunnel syndrome alone is 4.3 times the national average, and that’s not accounting for another problem: underreporting of MSDs among employees.

The Impact of Repetitive Stress on Louisiana Poultry Workers

For poultry workers, the root cause of MSDs is repetitive strain injury.

The human body is not adapted for doing the same motion thousands upon thousands of times as poultry workers do. Our body parts wear out like any other productive component, and overuse without adequate rest causes certain body parts to wear out faster. This causes degenerative damage to nerves, muscles, and tendons over time.

Damage from repetitive stress injuries accumulate over time. Workers can suffer stress fractures, hernias, nerve compression syndromes, and other serious consequences if they are unable to fully recover from repetitive strain.

Amputation Risk Higher Among Louisiana Poultry Workers

BLS data and other studies have found a link between poultry production and work-related amputations, specifically finger amputation. The rate of amputation among poultry workers is twice the national average; recent BLS data shows that the amputation rate could be rising, with 2020 data showing amputation rates five times the average.

Amputation often happens “after hours,” during cleanup. Sanitation and cleaning crews have to remove blade guards to wipe down saws and cutters, and with rigorous scrubbing comes the serious risk of laceration. This is coupled with a heightened risk from slippery surfaces—lack of balance increases the likelihood of a worker falling near or on an exposed blade.

On-Site Workplace Clinics Make Things Worse

Fewer than 1 in 6 poultry production workers have health insurance.

Because poultry facilities require that workers see an on-site workplace clinic (OWC) for job-related injuries to receive coverage, most workers don’t have any option but to see a company doctor. Except most of these workers aren’t seeing doctors at all; OWCs are typically staffed by EMTs or licensed practical nurses, or LPNs. An LPN receives the minimal amount of training required of any nursing position. State law requires that these medical professionals be overseen by a physician or higher-ranking nurse to sign off on medical documents and provide diagnostic expertise.

The problem is that OSHA investigations have found that most of these facilities don’t have clinical oversight of any kind. More often than not, poultry workers end up getting medical advice that goes well beyond the training of an EMT or nurse. This has led to delayed diagnosis and poor treatment, which ultimately results in preventable surgeries down the line.

All of this was published in a 2023 report from the American Medical Association Journal of Ethics. That report recounted the story of a poultry factory worker who suffered frostbite and gangrene because his OWC kept dismissing his symptoms. Ultimately, he lost his finger because the on-site medical ‘care’ kept sending him back to work.

Even a worker had lost a finger, the company refused to provide coverage for his medical costs.

Fighting for Injured Poultry Workers in Louisiana

Poultry production is how America feeds itself. Chicken and eggs are among the most widely sold agricultural products in the country. It follows that the people who are feeding America deserve security, safety, and dignity at work. Instead, these workers face brutal conditions and a shockingly high risk of amputation, loss of mobility, and more.

It’s not enough that OSHA has a Regional Emphasis Program to address poultry industry risks. These workers deserve to get the best medical care for job-related injuries, covered 100% by their employer without losing their pay or place on the line. Unfortunately, the only way these workers have a hope of getting those things is after they’ve suffered grievous and preventable harm. In our experience, that’s been the only way to get what injured workers need from big companies.

Contact Us

Get Started with a Free Consultation

  • Please enter your first name.
  • Please enter your last name.
  • This isn't a valid email address.
    Please enter your email address.
  • This isn't a valid phone number.
    Please enter your phone number.
  • Please make a selection.
  • Please make a selection.
  • Please enter a message.