Plant with sick workers wins health award

Around the same time this month that an Austin meatpacking plant was denying workers compensation claims to more than a dozen workers who got sick, it was picking up an award from an industry group for its health and safety program.

The American Meat Institute has awarded The Quality Pork Processors plant in Austin its Award of Honor. It apparently is the highest honor in the business and recognizes worker safety.

It’s the same plant being sued by a worker because of a mysterious neurological illness that she and 12 co-workers developed, and the company has refused their claim for workers compensation.

Health investigators, MPR’s Sea Stachura reported earlier this month, have been trying to determine whether the brain tissue, sprayed into the air as droplets, made the workers sick.

Coincidentally, the award was announced on the day the lawsuit was made public.

So, what do you have to do to win the award? Let’s go to the guidelines:

The primary program goals are to motivate participants to improve their safety performance through the establishment of sound safety and health programs at the plant level and to recognize those plants that have achieved a high level of safety performance as part of the continuing effort to reduce occupational injury and illness.


The program can boost employee morale, reduce expenses associated with injuries and illness in the workplace and enhance the meat and poultry industry’s overall image regarding employee safety and health.

“Explain this to me,” I asked David Ray, the vice president for public affairs for the American Meat Institute.

“Well, the award is not a measurement of the response to a single situation, rather it’s the measurement of the total health and safety program of the plant,” he said.

“But if it has a good health and safety program of the plant, would 13 people have gotten sick because of what they do for a living and then be denied workers compensation?” I asked.

That’s when I find out that the person I needed to talk to is on a plane this afternoon.

I wonder how things are at the plants that didn’t win the award.

Update 5:06 p.m. – Even more workers have gotten sick.

  • brain

    Even if Quality Pork Processing did deserve the award in all other areas, you’d think the American Meat Institute would have picked another plant anyway… just to avoid this.

    How much do you want to bet this ends up on Leno?

  • c

    /Health investigators, MPR’s Sea Stachura reported earlier this month, have been trying to determine whether the brain tissue, sprayed into the air as droplets, made the workers sick./

    What sprayed into the air?….a pig’s brain tissue?….people’s brain tissue?…what was sprayed into the air as droplets?

    I sure wouldn’t want to work at that plant in Austin if they are spraying people with brain tissue. No way.

  • brian

    The job of the workers in question was to blow the (already dead) pig’s brains out of the skull with compressed air. In that process pig brain droplets got sprayed on them.

  • GopherMPH

    The U. Minnesota School of Public Health is doing a study to investigate the medical, health problems that have emerged. That is, going from “something’s wrong” to being able to state a bit more strongly “this is what is wrong”.

    The processing plant uses (used) compressed air to pop out the pig’s brain, which is then sold in other countries, which like that sort of thing. Imagine what happens if you turn on an air hose in something that’s sort of squishy. Apparently, the pig’s brain just pops right out. However, little droplets also get popped out. All of the workers with medical problems were working at the ‘head table’ (plus one worker who hung out there chatting).

    The plant is no longer performing this task.

    There are other plants in the US which perform this task, both using compressed air and water. The water-based practice plants don’t have the problems. The other plants with pressured air also have problems.

    There’s a seminar on this topic at the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health on April 28, 2008, in the Mayo Hall, Room 3-100, 2:15 p.m. The speaker is Dr. Richard Danila, the Deputy State Epidemiologist, The title of the lecture is ” Investigation of Progressive Inflammatory Neuropathy Among Swine Slaughterhouse Workers: A Work in Progress”.

    I heard him speak on the topic a few weeks ago. He was a good speaker, and the topic is pretty interesting. I expect his talk is going to be geared for someone basically familiar with the concepts of epidemiology, not the total layman, since it is part of a series of lectures for the public health school. However, it is open to the public. It is a scientific presentation, and not a form for political discourse.