01/29/2007

SPLC Complaint Results in Heavy Fines for Poultry Producer

UPDATE: Gold Kist to pay over $80,000 in fines 

Gold Kist reached a final settlement with OSHA requiring the poultry company to pay over $80,000 in fines for regularly exposing workers to dangerous working conditions. In addition, Gold Kist is required to conduct regular safety inspections of their facility in Russellville, Ala., adopt safety programs used at other Gold Kist plants, and provide training for workers and managers. To ensure compliance, Gold Kist must report quarterly and submit to an annual review by OSHA.

Gold Kist, OSHA called to hearing 

Despite OSHA’s Aug. 14 order to correct serious and repeat violations at the Gold Kist poultry processing facility in Russellville, Ala., the company has refused to accept responsibility and clean up its act. The OSHA inspection revealed 21 hazardous conditions "likely to cause death or serious bodily injury," two hazardous conditions cited by OSHA in the past and a recordkeeping violation.

On Nov. 3, Gold Kist filed papers with the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission denying all violations of federal health and safety law. The company blamed any unsafe conditions on worker misconduct.

The Commission ordered Gold Kist and OSHA to attend a settlement conference to be held on Dec. 7 and 8.

SPLC complaint draws OSHA citations for poultry producer

Aug. 18, 2006 -- An Alabama poultry processing plant faces $143,000 in fines as the result of a federal complaint, filed by the Center and Southern Migrant Legal Services, alleging the company subjected workers to dangerous working conditions.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited the Russellville, Ala., plant for 21 serious safety violations, two repeat violations and a record-keeping violation. The plant is owned by Atlanta-based Gold Kist, Inc. the country's third largest chicken processor and marketer, employing more than 16,000 people.

"It is outrageous that workers are being forced to trade their health and safety for a paycheck," said Jennifer Rosenbaum, an attorney with the Center's Immigrant Justice Project.

Gold Kist operated a plant with blocked and improperly marked exits, unsafe floor conditions, inadequate personal protective equipment, insufficient machine guarding and numerous other safety hazards, according to OSHA.

The complaint says these conditions put the plant's 1,270 workers at unreasonable risk. The conditions led to at least two traumatic injuries within the past year. One worker broke three bones in her foot after slipping on a wet metal grate in the packing area, while another seriously damaged her knee after tripping over an uneven drain cover.

In addition to the unsafe conditions, workers were routinely forced to wait 30 minutes after requesting a bathroom break before they could leave their post, according to the complaint.

The complaint also alleges Gold Kist failed to provide properly cleaned gloves to workers who were required to clean the plant's machines, causing at least one worker to receive a fungal infection on his hand. In addition, the plant failed to provide an adequate "lockout/tagout" system to prevent machines from being turned on while they were being cleaned. The failure to provide such a system led to several serious injuries.

The OSHA report gave Gold Kist 15 days to contest the citations and proposed penalties.

Serious citations, according to OSHA, are issued "when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result, and the employer knew or should have known of the hazards."