Chicken producer Wayne Farms is facing fines totaling $102,600 for labor violations at a processing plant in Jack, Ala. Workers at the plant were exposed to safety and musculoskeletal hazards and suffered serious injuries, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Employees at the plant are also at a higher risk for developing carpal tunnel syndrome and other disorders that affect the nerves, muscles and tendons, according to the citation.
Plant workers were also exposed to dangerous machinery and fall hazards, according to OSHA. A complaint by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) launched the investigation. The citation comes on the heels of a joint letter the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Labor sent in August to all poultry plants regarding their responsibility to prevent musculoskeletal disorders. Joseph Roesler, OSHA’s area director in Mobile, said: “Wayne Farms effectively concealed the extent to which these poultry workers plant were suffering work-related injuries and illnesses.”
Wayne Farms was cited for a repeat violation, with a penalty of $38,000, for failing to protect workers from a moving part of a machine during servicing and maintenance work, according to the complaint. In this instance, the employer lacked lockout and tagout procedures for maintaining a plastic strapping machine, something it failed to do following a previous OSHA inspection in February 2012 at the company’s facility in Enterprise, the complaint states. The poultry company was also assessed with seven serious violations, carrying penalties of $49,000, that involve exposing workers to serious safety hazards, including unguarded machines, slippery floors and fall hazards, according to the complaint.
In addition, OSHA issued two more serious general duty clause citations to Wayne Farms for musculoskeletal disorder hazards with penalties of $14,000, according to the complaint. One general duty clause citation was issued for exposing employees on the debone line to hazards while performing prolonged, repetitive, forceful tasks, often while using awkward postures. Additionally, OSHA alleged that the company exposed employees to repetitive lifting and carrying of totes filled with chicken that can weigh more than 75 pounds, according to the citation.
As we have previously pointed out, a serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard that the employer knew or should have known about. Wayne Farms produces products under the brand names Dutch Quality House and Platinum Harvest. Wayne Farms’ Alabama plants are located in Albertville, Decatur, Dothan, Enterprise and Union Springs.
Since 1994, OSHA has conducted 33 inspections at Wayne Farms facilities in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi. The most recent inspection at the Jack plant was conducted in June 2011 when the company was cited for record-keeping violations. Wayne Farms is the sixth largest vertically integrated chicken producer in the United States. Its corporate office, based in Oakwood, Ga., and its Jack plant have a combined estimated 1,115 employees. The company employs approximately 9,800 additional workers in its nine integrated complexes, comprised of nine hatcheries, eight feed mills, nine slaughter processing plants and two further processing plants.