The Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspected 244 meat and poultry processing facilities in South Carolina and around the country in 2016, but a report released recently by the Government Accountability Office suggests that the agency’s efforts to protect workers in the industry are not as successful as they could be. According to the GAO, safety issues may be going unaddressed because meat and poultry processing workers are reluctant to speak up due to fears of retaliation. Other government agencies are also not informing OSHA about possible violations to avoid scrutiny.

The GAO report is based on interviews with OSHA staff, industry figures and labor advocates, data gathered during OSHA inspections and input from four other government agencies. The report urges OSHA to encourage workers to be more candid by interviewing them offsite and providing timely updates to employers about workplace safety issues and regulations.

The Food and Safety Inspection Service, which is part of the Department of Agriculture, was also criticized by the GAO for failing to report workplace hazards. The FSIS and OSHA agreed to share information when the two agencies signed a memorandum of understanding more than 20 years ago, but the GAO found that FSIS inspectors are often reluctant to report workplace safety violations because they fear that doing so could prompt an OSHA investigation of FSIS.

Workers who perform dangerous tasks expect government inspectors to do everything reasonable to protect them from workplace injuries, but they also understand that not all accidents can be prevented. When workers are injured on the job or develop a work-related illness, attorneys familiar with the workers’ compensation program could help them to complete their claims paperwork and apply for all of the benefits that they are entitled to. Attorneys could also advocate on behalf of injured workers if their employers contest their claims.