The US Department of Labor has found that one of the nation’s largest food safety sanitation services providers, US cleaning contractor Packers Sanitation Services Inc. (PSSI), has illegally employed children in slaughterhouses, one of the country’s most dangerous labor environments.
The Wisconsin-based company PSSI has been busted for employing and assigning at least 102 children ages 13 to 17 to work overnight shifts and to use caustic chemicals to clean razor-sharp saws and other high-risk equipment at 13 meat processing facilities in 8 states.
Although the US labor law permits companies to hire minors for some jobs, they’re not allowed to do jobs that are considered hazardous.
According to government data, meatpacking is one of the most dangerous industries in the United States, with workers exposed at three times greater risk to suffer serious injury than the average American laborer.
Due to the use of saws, grinders, hooks, and extruders, common injuries in these processing facilities include finger or hand amputations, fractures, burns, and head trauma.
The minors hired by PSSI, as federal investigators found, cleaned hazardous slaughterhouse equipment – such as back saws and head splitters- while working with dangerous chemicals as a result of which at least three of the children were injured.
One of them, a 14-year-old, missed school after suffering a chemical burn while working from 11 pm to 5 am as many as six days a week.
According to Jessica Loman, a deputy administrator with the Department of Labor, this can only happen when employers do not take responsibility to prevent child labor violations from occurring in the first place, stressing that these children should never have been employed in meatpacking plants in the first place.
PSSI officials ignored the notices it received even when its own systems flagged some of its hires as minors, allegedly trying to derail the probe of the Department’s investigators who arrived at the slaughterhouses with warrants.
Following the investigation, PSSI was forced to pay more than $1.5 million in fines, amounting to $15,138 for each child that it illegally employed.