Pilgrim’s Pride is adding to its flock of safety failures, accumulating 14 serious and eight other-than-serious safety and health violations at its Live Oak, Fla. facility.
A July 2016 inspection revealed the company failed to make timely medical referrals for workplace injuries, did not ensure workers followed energy-control procedures to prevent unexpected machine start-ups while cleaning equipment, exposed employees to amputation hazards because of unguarded machine parts and equipment and exposed workers to fall hazards. Pilgrim’s Pride racked up $78,175 from these most recent violations.
"Referring an employee for medical attention in a timely manner is critical in order to prevent musculoskeletal disorders or further injury," said Brian Sturtecky, OSHA's area director in Jacksonville in a statement. "Having employees visit a first-aid room for ‘in-house treatment' over a course of weeks or months without a referral to a physician can lead to additional long-lasting injuries for employees. It is the employer's responsibility to ensure workers are protected from workplace injuries."
This isn’t Pilgrim’s Pride’s first run-in with OSHA. The company has a multitude of past incidents and violations in the past five years.
Most recently, OSHA fined Pilgrim’s Pride $122,500 in March 2016 for failure to use proper safety procedures that could have prevented the release of 79 pounds of anhydrous ammonia at its Waco, Texas location. The agency cited Pilgrim's for the same or similar violations at its plants in in Nacogdoches, Texas in February 2015 and in De Queen, Arkansas, in July 2013.
“The poultry industry must stop destroying workers’ bodies to make its products,” said Naomi Tsu, deputy legal director Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which recently filed two OSHA complaints over conditions at a Farm Fresh Foods poultry plant in Alabama.
OSHA fined the company $77,000 in March 2016 after a machine operator at Pilgrim’s Russellville, Ala location suffered a finger amputation as he attempted to reassemble a chicken-part separating machine. Pilgrim’s Pride was cited at this location for the same infraction in 2010.
Pilgrim’s Pride also has multiple fatalities on record. In 2013, the company reached a $2.5 million settlement after a truck struck and fatality injured James Bynum, a longtime employee, at Pilgrim’s Mount Pleasant, Texas facility two years before. A whistleblower received a $50,000 settlement in June 2012 after raising environmental concerns at that same Texas plant. Christopher Chin died in October 2012 after getting caught in a machine while trying to remove a piece of cardboard at the Pilgrim’s Pride Canton, Ga., facility.
"The poultry slaughter industry loves to tout its declining injury rates, but outside experts have many reasons to believe the industry's cooking its books,” said Matthew Shudtz, executive director, Center for Progressive Reform. “This isn't the first time OSHA's investigators have uncovered the sophisticated sabotage of worker protections. That's why it is so important for OSHA's lawyers to carry this case through and hold Pilgrim's Pride accountable. Make no mistake; the rest of the industry is watching."
The U.S. Poultry and Egg Association declined to comment for this story.
Pilgrim's Pride processes more than 34 million birds per week and more than seven billion pounds of chicken annually, making it one of the world’s largest chicken producers. The company supplies poultry to fast-food chains such as Kentucky Fried Chicken and Wendy's as well as grocers Publix and Wal-Mart. It employs approximately 35,000 workers with operations in 12 states, Mexico and Puerto Rico.