A year after receiving complaints of potentially unsafe conditions in poultry processing plants across the country, the Government Accountability Office determined that many employees are reluctant to speak with OSHA reps for fear of reprisal by their employers. Factory employees in New Jersey might take interest in the situation.

Beginning last year, OSHA was receiving complaints regarding working conditions at five poultry plants. Complaints ranged from not allowing employees bathroom breaks to failing to have plant chemicals inspected by federal agencies prior to use. OSHA learned that a number of employees had taken to wearing adult diapers after being denied bathroom privileges. The failure to test certain chemicals prior to use can put employees at risk of illness if they are hazardous.

According to the year-long GAO study, OSHA performs onsite inspections of plants and conducts onsite interviews with employees. Because of the onsite nature of the interviews, the report alleges that many employees are fearful to identify violations. The original complaining party described the situation as a “climate of fear” among employees. Several poultry trade organizations have denied the allegations, claiming that in a tight labor market, it is to the advantage of the producers for their employees to remain happy and healthy.

OSHA is the main regulatory agency protecting the health and safety of industrial workers. It has jurisdiction over a myriad of industries, including poultry processing plants. Employees should be aware that it is illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee filing a complaint with the agency. Retaliation could include termination, demotion, a pay deduction or another act.

Complaints of retaliation can be made orally or in writing to the appropriate OSHA regional office. OSHA is then under obligation to investigate the complaint concerning retaliation as well as the underlying complaint of an unsafe condition.