How to receive compensation for work injuries in a meatpacking plant
The food processing industry has strong roots in North Carolina.
There are over 1,000 food processing plants in the state. The industry is so large that it contributes about $87 billion of the annual state GDP and employs about 17 percent of all workers in North Carolina. The Tarheel State is also home to about 24 of the 50 food and beverage companies in the U.S.
In Rowan County, companies like Cheerwine and Carolina Malt House are among the largest in the state. Other food processors include Rockwell Farms, Patterson Farms, Freirich Foods and Freshouse. Food processing firms, such as Smithfield Foods in Tar Heel and Purdue, employ hundreds of workers to process and pack food.
While this thriving industry may be good for the economy of North Carolina, food processing workers face higher rates of work-related injuries compared to other industries.
Work-related injuries for food processors & meatpackers
Between 1982 and 1985, there were about 3 deaths for every 100,000 food processing workers every year. This number has fallen in recent years thanks to better safety laws and better machinery, but the number of injuries is still high.
As a food processor or meatpacker, your work involves cutting, trimming, packaging and processing food items and meat for sale. The work involves repetitive tasks and may expose you to dangerous machinery, extreme temperatures and slippery floors. Plant conditions make the food manufacturing industry have one of the highest injury rates in North Carolina and around the U.S.
When a worker sustains an injury, they will need some time off from work. The time off can cause a financial strain as the employee also needs to pay for medical bills. This is where workers’ compensation comes in to help with the financial challenges. In North Carolina, most workers are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits—regardless of whether they were at fault or not.
Common types of injuries in the food processing industry
Due to the repetitive tasks, workers may suffer from musculoskeletal disorders, notably sprains and strains. Symptoms may include:
- Soreness and pain in the lower back
- Torn ligaments and tendons
Workers can also sustain injuries from accidents that result from:
- Slips and falls
- Fumes, mold and other toxic substances
- Fires and explosions
Workers’ compensation for injured meatpackers and food processors
Even if it’s your right to get compensation after an injury, you may still be denied benefits. If you fail to document the injuries as needed, or the employer doesn’t cooperate in documenting the injury, you may miss compensation. Undocumented workers, in particular—who are employed in large numbers by food processing companies in North Carolina—may fear deportation and therefore choose not to file for workers’ comp.
Workers’ compensation typically takes care of your medical bills and gives you a part of your wages as you recover from the injury. It will also pay for partial or temporary disability, which includes any reduced wages when you are assigned a lesser position than you had before the injury.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the meatpacking and meat processing industry has one of the highest job transfer and job restriction rates. It’s challenging for workers with restricted duty to obtain workers’ compensation.
In most cases, therefore, workers may not get the compensation they deserve after an occupational injury. There are instances where the employer will dispute the worker’s claim and others where the filing and follow-up process becomes too complicated for the workers.
How to file for workers’ compensation in North Carolina
In order to be eligible for compensation, you must have sustained the injury while on duty doing work-related tasks. For instance, if you lose your finger to a food processor, you can file for workers’ comp. However, if you are in a car accident while driving home from work, you probably aren’t eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.
If your injuries are caused by the negligence of a third party, then you need to file for a third-party personal injury claim. These injuries can result from mistakes made by an intoxicated worker, defective machinery or a visitor who didn’t know how to operate machinery.
An experienced attorney can help you determine the best way to handle your claim and if a third-party injury claim is necessary. Our North Carolina workers’ comp attorneys know the best strategy to use to file the claim and ensure it gets accepted. We can also advise you on what to do if your claim is denied.