Recently, when the federal agency that oversees worker safety penalized a Pennsylvania company, it once again highlighted the risks workers face in the meat processing industry.

The troubling case also offers a reminder that meat plant workers, like other employees, have rights to safe working conditions, workers’ compensation benefits for the ill health effect of their jobs and to seek damages in civil court.

Ghastly accident in Pennsylvania plant

Investigators began their work after the death of a 35-year-old worker running an industrial-sized meat grinder.

Shortly before noon on a Monday morning back in April, she stood atop stairs by the hopper of the machine. She either fell or was pulled into the grinder, dying instantly, according the coroner’s office of Lycoming County, the location of the wholesale meat processing plant.

Nobody saw the accident, but its sound drew the attention of workers who quickly discovered the scene, turned off the machine and notified authorities. Firefighters disassembling the machine to recover the woman’s body.

Death found related to safety violations

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) soon investigated the accident, finding two serious safety violations contributed to the tragedy.

The grinder ran with its lid open, exposing workers to its rotating mixing paddles and posing serious hazards to plant employees. Also, the hole exposed by the open lid measured 10-by-24-inches, so large that it also posed a safety hazard.

Deadly violations lead OSHA to more violations

OSHA’s investigation went further than these two violations directly associated with the April death. Among the violations OSHA found were:

  • Forklift operators neither properly trained nor evaluated for operation skills
  • Smokehouse room employees dispensing a corrosive sanitizing chemical with no eye or face protection
  • Employees not properly trained to use chemical products
  • No eyewash station supplied
  • Employees exposed to electric shock hazards from missing breakers and an open fuse box

All told, OSHA fined the company for 11 serious violations for totaling $49,062 in penalties. Whether the company will appeal this decision or face civil lawsuits from the worker’s loved ones is not yet clear.