A leading US supplier of fast-food and supermarket chicken has racked up more than $1.4 million in safety fines this year alone, after two workers were seriously injured on separate occasions.
The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) levied the latest penalties against Case Farms Processing Inc. for 16 violations – proposing penalties of $424,000 late last week.
The six-figure fine came just weeks after OSHA placed Case Farms on its Severe Violator Enforcement Program
, handing down $861,500 in penalties following an investigation into the company's Winesburg, Ohio facility.
Officials say the organization has done little to change the dangerous company culture it currently operates.
"In the past 25 years, Case Farms has done little to change a corporate culture where workers are endangered despite repeated OSHA inspections and commitments from the company to fix its safety and health programs," said Howard Eberts, OSHA's area director in Cleveland.
One 24-year-old worker was cleaning a fat sucker machine when the operating parts of a plunger amputated two of his fingertips – the machine should have been prevented from operating during the cleaning process. An employee for nearly a year and a half, the worker was suspended from his job for 10 days and subsequently fired.
Less than two weeks later, a 17-year-old cleaning contractor had his lower leg amputated while cleaning a liver-giblet chiller machine after Case Farms had failed to install safety mechanisms. Unable to return to work due to his injuries, the teen was fired soon after the incident.
"A teenager's life has been forever altered because of a devastating leg injury just weeks after starting this job. How many injuries will it take before Case Farms stops exposing workers to dangerous machinery parts?" asked Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for OSHA.
"OSHA will continue to inspect, monitor and penalize this company until it makes necessary improvements. They need to protect their workers, and they need to do it now,” he added.
Aside from the serious injuries, two other inspections remain open at Case Farms’ Canton Facility:
In June, OSHA opened an investigation into deficiencies in the ammonia refrigeration system – exposure to ammonia is known to cause serious respiratory illness and accidental releases of the gas from pressurized pipes can have catastrophic consequences.
In July, OSHA opened an investigation into allegations that poultry workers were experiencing symptoms of campylobacter infection, a foodborne illness.
Case Farms would not comment on “ongoing administrative matters” but said it did not agree with the negative characterizations that had been made about the company.
“Our employees are our most important resource and we continue to focus on providing a safe and health work environment,” the company said in a statement. “The citations are being reviewed and we will work with OSHA, as we have in the past, to address the concerns outlines in the citations.”
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