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October 14, 2015
Teen worker amputation just the latest for poultry processor

The month after OSHA placed an employer in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP) the company was again cited and fined for violations, including several that led to a tragic outcome for a teen contract worker. What’s going on and why do the violations persist?

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The employer, a North Carolina-based supplier of chicken for fast food restaurants and supermarkets, is facing more than $1.4 million in OSHA fines this year. The most recent incident led to two willful, 10 repeat, and four serious violations for the employer, as well as citations and $180,000 in fines for the owner of a company subcontracted to clean machinery at the Canton, Ohio, poultry plant.

In March, a 24-year-old employee was cleaning a “fat sucker” machine when the operating parts of a plunger amputated two fingertips. According to OSHA, the machine should have been prevented from operating during the cleaning process. In April, a 17-year-old employee of the cleaning company suffered the amputation of his left leg from the knee down when he was cleaning a chiller machine. As a result, the teen has been unable to return to work. Both employees were fired after the incidents.

OSHA notes that, while the poultry employer does not supervise contractor employees working at its facilities, the company is responsible for exposing the contract worker to operating parts of machinery because it failed to install safety mechanisms.

Other open inspections at the Canton site reveal exposure to ammonia and allegations that poultry workers were experiencing symptoms of campylobacter infection, a foodborne illness.

Commented OSHA chief David Michaels, PhD, “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 [this employer] stops exposing workers to dangerous machinery parts?” Michaels vowed that the agency would continue to inspect, monitor, and penalize the company until it makes necessary improvements.

In 2013, the poultry processor agreed to address safety violations in a settlement agreement after an OSHA inspection found workers exposed to dangerous machinery and other hazards at its Winesburg, Ohio, location. Follow-up inspections led to the latest batch of citations and fines, which the employer has contested.

Steer clear of OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program
In August, OSHA placed the employer in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP). OSHA describes SVEP, introduced in 2010, as a way to more effectively focus enforcement efforts on recalcitrant employers that demonstrate indifference to the health and safety of their employees through willful, repeated, or failure-to-abate violations of the OSH Act. The program replaced the earlier Enhanced Enforcement Program.

Under SVEP, OSHA conducts mandatory follow-up site inspections and can conduct corporatewide inspections. The program also includes press notification of SVEP citations, quarterly posting on the OSHA website, and enhanced abatement and settlement terms such as requiring the hiring of a qualified safety and health consultant.

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