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Lesser-known hazards posed in meatpacking facilities

If you work in one of the many meatpacking plants in Minnesota, you spend your days in one of the most dangerous occupations in the country. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says workers in these facilities suffer three times more injuries than in any other manufacturing industry. You and your coworkers face a wide variety of safety hazards every day, many of which involve cuts by knives and injuries caused by equipment.

Hazards of your job include machines like bone and head splitters, jaw and snout pullers, band saws, cleavers, and other equipment used during the different stages of carcass processing. Along with that comes various lesser-known health and safety hazards, some of which could be life-threatening.

Infectious diseases

Exposure to various viruses and fungi could cause infectious diseases. Being alert to the following might allow you to take precautions:

  • Verruca Vulgaris: The virus that causes these warts can be spread among workers by contact with contaminated work tables, towels, knives and other objects.
  • Brucellosis: When you work with swine or cattle, this bacterium can transmit to you, causing headaches, recurring fever, joint pain, weakness, appetite loss and night sweats.
  • LeptospirosisInfected animals can contaminate moist soil, water and vegetation with this bacterium, and any contact you have with those can transmit the disease to you. It causes eye infections, muscular aches, chills, fever, headaches and vomiting, with potential liver and kidney damage.
  • ErysipeloidThis is also a bacterium, but it transmits by entering abrasions, scratches and puncture wounds of your skin. You can identify it by irritation and redness around the infected area, and it can enter the bloodstream and lymph nodes.
  • DermatophytosisAnother name for this fungal disease is ringworm, and you can get it through contact with the skin and hair of an animal or an infected co-worker. It causes a yellow crust that forms on the scalp where hair loss occurs in patches.

Toxic substances

Your job will expose you to the following toxic substances, and knowing about them might help you to avoid exposure:

  • Ammonia: This pungent gas fills refrigeration pipes and forms part of the cooling process. Leaks in the pipes can cause contact with anhydrous liquid ammonia, causing nausea, vomiting and irritation to your eyes, skin, nose and throat. Severe symptoms include respiratory tract irritation that might cause respiratory arrest, pulmonary edema, pneumonia or bronchitis.
  • Carbon monoxide: This deadly gas is odorless and undetectable by your senses, and exposure could happen in a smokehouse. You might experience dizziness, headache, nausea, vomiting, drowsiness, and it could cause death.
  • Carbon dioxide: Dry ice produces carbon dioxide that could spread throughout a room to cause dizziness, headaches, nausea and vomiting. High levels of exposure can cause death.
  • Polyvinyl chloride: If you wrap meat in food-wrap film that you cut on a hot wire and seal on a hot plate, you can experience eye, nose and throat irritation. It could also cause chest pains, wheezing, breathing problems and more.

Along with better-known injuries like musculoskeletal injuries from overexertion, slip-and-fall accidents, amputations from equipment exposure and cuts, these injuries might cause conditions that leave you with mounting medical bills and lost wages.

Workers' compensation

Fortunately, the Minnesota workers' compensation system provides benefits to cover medical bills and a portion of your lost wages. Further assistance is available from an experienced attorney who can assist with the navigation of the claims process.

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