Saturday, August 19, 2006

Gold Kist: Bad To The Bone

You can tell when a company really doesn't respect its workers. Not only will they fight their employees' attempts to gain a voice in the workplace (a union), but they'll also tend to neglect workers' health and safety.

One example is Gold Kist, of which I've written a couple of times, first when the company fought workers compensation for employees injured in their South Carolina plant because management suddenly discovered -- after the injuries -- that they were undocumented immigrants.

Then there's Gold Kist's plant in Russellville, Alabama, which is fighting a United Food and Commercial Workers organizing campaign (and where the company told a worker to go home and take an ibuprofin after she broke her ankle so badly that the bone was sticking through her sock. They told her it was her fault and even refused to pay for her broken glasses.)

Now OSHA is catching up to Gold Kist's shenanigans. The agency fined the same Gold Kist Russellville plant $143,000 "for allegedly exposing workers to hazards at its Russellville, Ala., poultry processing plant that included blocked exits and unsafe floor conditions."

Occupational Health and Safety magazine notes that:
Safety professionals and others who remember the Sept. 3, 1991, inferno at a chicken processing plant in Hamlet, N.C., where 25 workers died and 54 were injured, may be chilled by an enforcement case OSHA announced yesterday....OSHA offers a Poultry Processing Industry eTool on fire safety that opens with a discussion of the problems at the Imperial Food Products Inc. plant in Hamlet.
According to the OSHA press release:
"Failing to comply with required safety procedures puts workers at unnecessary risk," said Roberto Sanchez, OSHA's area director in Birmingham, Ala. "When employers shirk their responsibility to keep workplaces free of hazards, the results can be tragic for workers and their families."

OSHA issued 21 serious safety citations with proposed penalties of $90,000. The citations were associated with blocked and improperly marked exits; unsafe floor conditions; inadequate personal protective equipment; insufficient machine guarding; and numerous other safety hazards. Serious citations are issued when there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result, and that the employer knew or should have known of the hazards.

The company also received two repeat violations with penalties totaling $50,000 for failure to keep conveyor belt work areas free from fall hazards and other unsafe conditions.