After the incident, nearly $1,000,000 in fines were issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration against a number of companies. deaths of six poultry workersGeorgia, January

They are the workers Foundation Food GroupTheir Gainesville facility had a nitrogen leak that caused the death of their employees. In announcing the fines, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said Friday that the company was putting “profits over safety” and had ignored basic responsibilities that could have prevented the leak.

“Six people went to work… and never came home,” Walsh said on a press call. “Make no mistake, this was a very preventable tragedy.”

OSHA also cited three additional companies in connection with safety violations following an investigation. Messer LLC was responsible for supplying industrial gas to the plant, Packers Sanitation Services LLC cleans the plant, and FS Group provides and services mechanical equipment.

OSHA issued total of 59 citations for the companies, amounting to $998,637. These are only initial penalties. Companies can appeal the citations and attempt to negotiate lower fees.

These are serious penalties according to OSHA standards, as the agency’s statutes only allow for weaker fines. Walsh said the amounts in this case were relatively large but “not enough.” Indeed, the total initial fines amount to just $166,000 for each worker who died.

Walsh urged Congress to raise OSHA penalties so dangerous employers are notified.

“We’ve seen too many companies cutting corners,” he said. “Workers are still dying every day in this country.”

Nicholas Ancrum (Vice President of Human Relations for Foundation Food Group), speaks at a conference after the fatal liquid nitrogen leak.

Liquid nitrogen is used to freeze poultry. It is colorless and odorless, often leaving workers unaware when they’re exposed to it. OSHA says three maintenance workers entered a freezer at the Gainesville plant on Jan. 28 and were “overcome immediately” by the nitrogen. Other workers followed them.

The deaths of five workers (including three maintenance staff) were immediate. A sixth worker was also killed while being transported to the hospital. A minimum of 12 other workers were admitted to the hospital.

OSHA claims that maintenance workers were not properly trained to deal with liquid nitrogen when they first entered the freezer.

Kurt Petermeyer, a regional administrator for OSHA, said on the press call that Foundation Food Group had gone more than a year without a safety director and that the company’s upper management “made no effort” to find other employees who could take on the safety responsibilities created by the vacancy.

The fines against Foundation Food Group include six “willful” citations, a graver category that comes with higher penalties. An employer who committed willful violations either knowingly failed to follow the law or “acted with plain indifference” to workers’ safety.

Foundation Food Group didn’t immediately reply to our request for comment regarding the citations.

OSHA has been investigating an apparent second leak ― this one of ammonia ― that occurred a few weeks after the liquid nitrogen disaster. OSHA received a complaint from workers about the leak. Foundation Food Group tried to block the agency’s investigation of the second leak, prompting a legal fightFederal court hearings with OSHA

Petermeyer did not say whether OSHA was cooperating. He did mention that OSHA was having trouble tracking down workers who were not legally documented. This is likely due to the fear of being in trouble.

“We continue to have difficulties in gaining support from the workers because of their fear of retaliation … or even threats of deportation,” he said.


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