- Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork and hog producer, was forced to halt production and destroy 50,000 pounds of meat after a worker allegedly urinated on the production line earlier in October.
- While it is unclear why the worker appeared to have urinated on the production line, a lack of bathroom breaks is a major problem at meat and poultry plants.
- Workers told Oxfam that it was not uncommon for poultry factory workers to urinate while on the production line, which they said they found humiliating, according to a 2015 report.
- A lack of bathroom breaks can also contribute to serious health issues, such as kidney problems or urinary tract infections.
Production at a Smithfield Foods packing plant in Smithfield, Virginia, came to a sudden halt earlier this October when an employee allegedly urinated while on the production line.
Smithfield, the world’s largest pork and hog producer, called the event an “isolated incident” and destroyed 50,000 pounds of meat. However, while a worker appearing to urinate on the production line may be an extreme example, the Smithfield incident could shed light on a much bigger issue in the industry.
Workers in meat and poultry processing plants have been plagued by a lack of bathroom breaks for years, according to reports on the industry. And, that has reportedly resulted in workers urinating while on the production line.
A 2015 Oxfam report found that poultry factory employees are routinely denied bathroom breaks, and workers report being mocked, ignored, and threatened with firing if they request to use the restroom.
According to Oxfam’s report, urinating on the line is far from an isolated incident. The anti-poverty organisation collected stories of people reporting feeling humiliated after urinating on the production line at sites including Tyson plants in three states, Pilgrim’s plants in Texas and Alabama, and a Case Farms plant in North Carolina.
“Workers struggle to cope with this denial of a basic human need,” the Oxfam report states. “They urinate and defecate while standing on the line; they wear diapers to work; they restrict intake of liquids and fluids to dangerous degrees; they endure pain and discomfort while they worry about their health and job security.”
According to The Department of Labour’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration report for 2017, workers in all five states surveyed said that their requests to use the bathroom were often delayed or denied.
People working at meat and poultry factories in three of five states told OSHA that they suffered negative health effects, such as kidney problems or urinary tract infections, due to delayed or denied bathroom breaks. Workers in two states said they feared punishment if they used the bathroom too frequently or complained about a lack of bathroom access.
Poultry and meat production giants have denied the reports. Pilgrim’s said in a statement to Business Insider that denying breaks would be “clear violations of company policy and would result in disciplinary action.” Tyson said in a statement it is working with Oxfam America to improve the workplace that and the company does “not tolerate the refusal of requests to use the restroom.”
Representatives for major poultry and meat production companies who spoke with OSHA said that the lack of bathroom breaks and related health and safety issues were not a problem, and that companies provided bathroom access as needed.
Smithfield did not respond to Business Insider’s request for comment on this story but said earlier in October: “The facility and its employees’ immediate response and corrective actions to this isolated incident reflect the company’s commitment to ensuring the safety and quality of its products.”
The worker, who was suspended as the company investigated the incident, has not publicly given any reason for why he appears to have urinated at the production line.
However, the issue of workers’ bathroom breaks is a pervasive one – and one that extends far beyond the meat and poultry industries. Workers in Amazon warehouses and others who deliver packages for the e-commerce giant reportedly have been forced to urinate in bottles as they struggle to meet strict targets. Some Tesla factory workers have also said they have been forced to choose between eating and using the bathroom.
If you’re a factory worker with a story to share, contact [email protected]
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