Hummus maker, Tribe Mediterranean Foods, is facing fines of $702,300 for 18 violations of workplace safety standards following the death of a worker at its Taunton, MA, production plant, said Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) officials.
OSHA’s South Boston Area Office opened an inspection Dec. 16 after a contract employee who was cleaning and sanitizing a machine used in the hummus manufacturing process ended up caught, pulled into the machine and crushed to death between two rotating augers.
OSHA’s investigation found that Tribe Mediterranean Foods, a subsidiary of Nestle SA, had not trained the deceased worker and six others who cleaned plant machinery on hazardous energy control or “lockout/tagout” procedures. These are the procedures employers must put into effect and train workers to follow to shut down machines and lock out their power sources before cleaning or performing maintenance on them. The purpose of lockout/tagout procedures is to ensure the machines are not operating, and cannot unexpectedly activate and harm workers. OSHA requires that employers train workers so they understand the purpose of the energy control procedures, and have the knowledge and skills required to safely utilize them.
“The employer knew it needed to train these workers so they could protect themselves against just this type of hazard but failed to do so. The result was a needless and avoidable loss of life,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. “In this case, Tribe Mediterranean Foods’ knowledge and continuous disregard for an obvious and deadly hazard was so pronounced that we are issuing seven willful citations for lack of training, one for each untrained worker exposed to the hazard.”
When there is a particularly egregious lack of compliance and exposure to hazards, OSHA can issue citations on a per-instance basis, in this case, representing one willful violation for each untrained employee exposed to a hazard.
OSHA has issued Tribe Mediterranean Foods citations for two additional willful violations, one for failing to adequately train maintenance workers to recognize hazardous energy sources, and one for failing to develop and utilize lockout/tagout procedures. A willful violation is one committed with intentional knowing or voluntary disregard for the law’s requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.
Citations for three repeat violations have been issued for failing to conduct periodic inspections of the energy control procedures, inadequate guarding of rotating blades on blending tanks, and an exposed chain and sprocket on a conveyor. A repeat violation occurs when an employer previously faced a similar or the same violation of a standard, regulation, rule or order at any facility in federal enforcement states within the last five years. OSHA cited Tribe Mediterranean Foods, doing business as FoodTech International Inc., in October 2009, for similar hazards at its New Haven, CT, plant.
Tribe Mediterranean Foods also received citations covering six serious violations for electrical, slipping, fall, pallet jack and additional machine guarding hazards. A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.
Due to the willful and repeat violations and the nature of the hazards, OSHA placed Tribe Mediterranean Foods in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which mandates targeted follow-up inspections to ensure compliance with the law. The program focuses on recalcitrant employers that endanger workers by committing certain willful, repeat or failure-to-abate violations.