Christopher Chin probably thought it only would take a second to remove the piece of cardboard from the hopper at the Pilgrim’s Pride facility where he worked in Canton, Ga., last October. Reaching in to grab the cardboard, Chin became caught in the machine and was killed. According to OSHA investigators, the machine should have been fitted with a guard to keep employees from reaching into the machine while it was operating.
OSHA issued four serious safety violations to Pilgrim’s Pride for failing to conduct annual periodic inspections of the energy control procedures since 2005 and not providing effective machine and equipment guarding, so that workers could not enter areas of operation and be exposed to struck-by and caught-in hazards. A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.
"Establishing safety and health programs that identify and remove hazards before a worker gets injured or sick goes to the very core of providing a safe and healthful workplace," said Bill Fulcher, director of OSHA's Atlanta-East Area Office. "In this case, a tragic loss resulted from equipment that could easily have been guarded."
The agency issued two repeat safety violations, for failing to include the process needed for the removal of locks and start-up following lockout/tagout. Additionally, the electrical cords did not have an effective strain relief device. A repeat violation exists when an employer previously has been cited for the same or a similar violation of a standard, regulation, rule or order at any facility in federal enforcement states within the last 5 years. Similar violations were cited following a 2011 inspection.
Two other-than-serious violations involve failing to consider safety and health standards for the refrigeration process and not including safety systems and their functions in the refrigeration operating procedures. An other-than-serious violation is one that has a direct relationship to job safety and health, but probably would not cause death or serious physical harm.
The citations for the repeat and serious violations carry $58,755 in proposed penalties. No monetary penalties have been assessed for the other-than-serious violations.
The spokesperson for Pilgrim’s Pride, Cameron Bruett, said the company is reviewing the citations and is working with OSHA to remedy any outstanding issues.
Previous OSHA Citations
The company was cited by OSHA in December 2012 for violations at its Lufkin, Tex., facility. The company receivedthree proposed repeat and four proposed serious violations following a June 2012 inspection as part of the agency's Process Safety Management Covered Chemical Facilities national emphasis program. Proposed penalties for that case totaled $99,000.
“Process safety management prevents the unexpected release of toxic, reactive or flammable liquids and gases in processes involving highly hazardous chemicals,” said David Doucet, director of OSHA’s Houston North office. “Exposure to highly hazardous chemicals can be fatal. OSHA will not tolerate a company’s failure to provide a safe and healthful working environment.”
The Pilgrim's Pride facility in Enterprise, Ala. was cited by OSHA in July 2011 for six safety violations following a March 2011 inspection. Proposed penalties totaled $85,800.
Two alleged repeat violations with $77,000 in penalties included allowing excessive accumulation of grain dust where a housekeeping program exists but is not followed or maintained, and allowing electrical components such as motors, outlets, drop lights and controller equipment to be subject to the accumulation of combustible dust. A repeat violation exists when an employer previously has been cited for the same or a similar violation of a standard, regulation, rule or order at any other facility in federal enforcement states within the last 5 years. The company was cited for both of these violations in August 2009 at its Gainesville, Ga., facility.
“Pilgrim’s Pride continues to allow combustible dust to accumulate on motors and electrical equipment, causing the potential for a fire or explosion,” said Kurt Petermeyer, OSHA’s area director in Mobile. “OSHA will not tolerate this type of irresponsibility when it comes to protecting workers.”
Pilgrim’s Pride’s Russellville, Ala., facility was cited in September 2010 for 29 safety and health violations. Proposed penalties totaled $135,500.
“This company has been cited numerous times in the last 5 years and should be aware of the safety and health measures that need to be addressed to protect its workers,” said Roberto Sanchez, OSHA area director in Birmingham.
OSHA began its inspection in March 2010 after receiving a complaint concerning ammonia odors, trip and struck-by hazards, cuts and stabbing injuries. The investigation was expanded to all areas of the facility when inspectors observed a high number of safety hazards.
The company was cited with two alleged repeat safety violations with $35,000 in proposed penalties for failing to utilize lockout/tagout procedures and not labeling containers with the appropriate hazard warning.
The company also was cited with 24 alleged serious safety and health violations with $97,500 in proposed penalties. The hazards are associated with falls; unmarked fire exits; unsecured chlorine cylinders; unsafe batteries that exposed workers to acid burns and electrical shock; lack of machine guarding; lack of hand protection and electrical deficiencies.
The U.S. Department of Labor entered into a settlement agreement with Pilgrim's Pride Corp. in Mount Pleasant, Tex., in June 2012 to resolve an investigation by OSHA into the company’s termination of an employee who raised environmental complaints, in violation of the whistleblower provision of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act.
“Employees must feel free to exercise their rights under the law without fear of termination or other retaliation by their employers,” said John M. Hermanson, OSHA’s regional administrator in Dallas. “The Labor Department is committed to vigorously protecting the whistleblower rights of all workers.”
OSHA initiated an investigation upon receiving a complaint from a manager for water reclamation at the company's chicken processing plant who had alerted the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality when process and storm water containing excessive amounts of chromium, lead and mercury were discharged into the environment. According to the complainant, Pilgrim’s Pride stated that the TCEQ did not need to be notified and that sharing the information was not in the company’s best interest, and consequently terminated the complainant’s employment.
Prior to OSHA issuing its investigative findings, the parties reached an agreement in which the employer will pay the complainant $50,000. Pilgrim’s Pride also has agreed to post a notice to employees advising them of their whistleblower rights, purge any derogatory information in the employee’s personnel file directly related to the incident and provide a neutral job reference. In exchange, the employee will not seek reinstatement.
Pilgrim's Pride Corp. employs approximately 38,500 workers with operations in 12 states, Mexico and Puerto Rico. The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations to comply, request an informal conference with Fulcher or contest the citations and penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.