Workplace dangers are inherent in the meatpacking industry because of the nature of tasks necessary to generate meat from animals that come in irregular sizes and to keep that product wholesome for consumers. While meatpacking injuries are both endemic and substantially more prevalent than in most American industries, their danger rests in their cumulative impact and not on dramatic accidents, as is the case in the mining and construction industries. Nonetheless, throughout the twentieth century, meatpacking left behind thousands of permanently damaged workers.
Traditionally the most common dangers in meatpacking were knife wounds and falls due to wet conditions. Since 1980, repetitive-motion disorders have become the most prevalent form of workplace injuries, as the danger to workers shifted from the hand holding the meat to the hand making the cuts. The increase in these forms of workplace dangers is closely associated with the collapse of union power and the sharp decline in meatpacking employment to jobs of last resort.
The current injury-and-illness reporting requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) conceal the extent of workplace injuries in meatpacking. Unlike methods prevalent before 2002, injuries that do not require absence from work are exempt from reporting requirements. Similarly, firms are not required to report injuries developed through cumulative activity, such as repetitive-motion disorders. Consequently, the level of workplace dangers in meatpacking is no longer accurately reflected in government statistics.