Injury and illness rates in the meat and poultry industry dropped during the last decade, falling in 2014 to an industry low of 5.5 cases per 100 full-time workers per year.

However, despite this decline, the meat and poultry industry injury and illness rates are still higher than those for overall manufacturing.

In addition, the meat and poultry figures, part of a recent report released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), don’t tell the whole story. According to GAO, “workers may underreport injuries and illnesses because they fear losing their jobs, and employers may underreport because of concerns about potential costs.”

Plus, the Department of Labor (DOL) only collects detailed data for injuries and illnesses that result in days away from work, omitting potential injuries that result in job transfers or work restrictions. Illness data may also be incomplete where meat and poultry sanitation workers are not accounted for because they may not be classified as working in the meat and poultry industry, if they work for contractors.

Because of this, the researchers say “these limitations in DOL’s data collection raise questions about whether the federal government is doing all it can to collect the data it needs to support worker protection and workplace safety.”

The North American Meat Institute disputes these conclusions, pointing to a recent Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) evaluation of recordkeeping in the meat and poultry industry, as well as other industries, that did not find the regular underreporting of injuries alleged in the GAO report.

“Worker safety has been a key priority in the meat industry over the last 25 years, and the positive results of our efforts are clear,” says Barry Carpenter, NAMI president and CEO. “There is always room for improvement, and we will look closely at the GAO recommendations to see how they can best be implemented in the industry.”