House Democrats want OSHA to crack down on abusive labor practices in the poultry processing and meatpacking industries.

A group of 15 Democrats led by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.) sent a letter to OSHA on Oct.27 asking the agency to create a National Emphasis Program to provide “heightened scrutiny” over serious health and safety hazards within the industry.

“As you know, repetitive motions, excessively fast line speeds, lack of restroom and rest breaks, knife cuts, slippery floors, hazardous chemicals, dangerous equipment, and exposure to high noise levels are among the many serious safety and health hazards that poultry and meat processing workers face,” their letter said. “Employees that handle live birds are sometimes exposed to poultry feces and have even a higher risk for disease.”

Citing data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the lawmakers said poultry workers were injured at a rate 1.5 times higher than all other workers in 2013 and meatpackers were injured at a rate twice as high.

“The need for enforcement from your agency is critical to protecting these workers from serious injury,” the Democrats' letter said. “We believe the high rate of injuries and the poor safety practices warrant special intervention from OSHA.”

On the same day, OSHA announced it has launched a Regional Emphasis Program in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas intended to prompt employers to protect poultry industry workers and reduce injury and illness rates.

OSHA's program begins with a three-month period of education and prevention outreach activities to share safety and health information with employers, associations and workers. Employers are encouraged to use this period to bring their facilities into compliance with OSHA standards, if they are not already.

The agency will then begin its targeted enforcement phase, including on-site inspections and a review of poultry processing production operations, working conditions, record keeping, chemical handling and safety and health programs to ensure compliance.