Alabama poultry plant fined for safety violations after SPLC complaint

An Alabama poultry processing plant has been fined almost $30,000 for unsafe work conditions found by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) after the Southern Poverty Law Center filed an administrative complaint that described how the company ignored – and even fired – workers who complained about the conditions.

Farm Fresh Foods, LLC, must correct all of the outstanding violations at the Guntersville plant before the end of the year. During its investigation, OSHA found that water contaminated with chemicals and chicken waste pooled at workers’ feet due to inadequate drainage. The company also didn’t ensure that workers wore proper eyewear when handling chemicals and did not adequately guard against dangerous moving parts in machinery, according to OSHA. Four items in the citations were labeled “serious” by OSHA, which issued the $29,039 in fines on Dec. 2.

“We are pleased OSHA is holding Farm Fresh Foods accountable for their disregard of worker safety,” said Naomi Tsu, SPLC deputy legal director. “These citations are a step in the right direction for oversight of the poultry industry, where abuses like these are all too common.”

Workers risked slip-and-fall injuries when supervisors made them race to grab and move 80-pound crates of raw chicken as contaminated water pooled on the floor, according to the SPLC complaint filed in July. Workers were forced to work under unsafe conditions because supervisors disciplined empty-handed employees even when there were no more crates to move.

In June, when workers told management about their concerns with the pace of their work, about 16 employees were suspended. At least four workers were later notified that they had been fired.

Another issue raised in the complaint – workers forced to handle raw chicken while wearing the same gloves and aprons they used as they cleaned the plant – was referred to the U.S. Department of Agriculture by OSHA.

An SPLC report, Unsafe at these Speeds, shows that retaliatory behavior is hardly unique in Alabama’s poultry plants. The SPLC interviewed more than 300 poultry workers for the report, finding that workers often encounter dangerous conditions and retaliation by employers.