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OSHA Cites Alabama Chicken Plant With Long History Of Injuries

In January, I wrote a post titled A Shameful History Of Workplace Injuries. In that article, I discussed the Pilgrim’s Pride chicken plant in Guntersville, Alabama. Over the last two decades, I’ve helped many workers injured in local chicken plants. That includes the one in Guntersville.

In too many poultry plants, management only thinks of speed. Faster. Faster. The line moves too fast for anyone to work safely. Accidents and physical stress take a toll on workers. When workers are injured, the plant simply ignores their complaints or sends them to its biased company doctor. Too often, they are left hurting and without medical care. Personally, I think the rate of injury in these plants is FAR under-reported.

I decided to write my prior article after a worker fell to his death in the company’s Guntersville plant. What happened? A worker was using a lift to move materials when he fell.

Did the plant protect worker safety? Shortly after the accident, local channel WAFF reporter wrote a short article on the death. When asked about the deadly worker fall, the Alabama DOL spokesperson responded the issue is not regulated by the state. She referred the issue to The Federal Occupational and Safety Health Administration (OSHA). Why does our state not act to protect necessary workers? When will Alabama take worker safety seriously? These are questions I’ve long asked. In Alabama, our work comp laws penalize workers who act unsafely but completely ignore companies who systematically put their employees in danger. That’s not fair.

OSHA did investigate the accident. On July 1, OSHA cited Pilgrim’s Pride for two very serious safety violations at its Guntersville plant. OSHA inspectors found (1) the lift had NO safety device to prevent falls; and, (2) the company was using the lift to move loads heavier than rated for the equipment. What was the fine for putting employees on an overloaded lift with no fall protection? What was the fine when one of those employees fell and died? $27,000. That’s all!

Keep in mind — This is not the first time the Guntersville plant has been cited for dangerous conditions by OSHA. These unsafe working conditions are not unique to Guntersville. The company’s Russellville, Alabama, plant has also been cited for some serious violations causing injuries. Company plants across the U.S. have been cited for violations, injuries and deaths. A simple Google search reveals a history of dangerous violations at many of the company’s plants.

A 2016 article titled Pilgrim’s Pride Adds To Flock Of OSHA Violations discusses a few of the company’s other dangerous workplace violations. I’m sure the four years since that article have seen many more accidents and safety violations. Although several years old, this article also questions whether the company is “cooking its books” by failing to report many accidents and injuries. Does Pilgrim’s Pride UNDER-report accidents and injuries? That’s an important question. In one of my most recent workers’ compensation cases against the company, my client suffered serious repetitive injuries. He reported to the nurse on many occasions. Each time, he was simply sent back to work. The nurse’s notes mentioned his visits but attributed his pain and problems to arthritis. The internal company notes NEVER mention his repeated reports that job activities were causing the problem nor his repeated requests to see a doctor. The company tried to avoid reporting his injuries and tried to avoid providing him a doctor. This article discusses the company’s practice of ignoring accidents, injuries and necessary medical care.

As I’ve mentioned in a couple of my prior poultry plant articles, I usually do not single out any company. But, we are not talking about a single accident or single safety incident. We are talking about an industry that fails to value the lives of its workers. In recent months, the coronavirus outbreak has really placed a spotlight on the unsafe conditions in these plants. Some poultry plants became hotspots for Covid-19 illnesses and even deaths because management cared nothing about the safety of workers in their plants. With a number of poultry plants located in nearby Marshall County, the entire County then became a Covid-19 infection hotspot.

We should expect safety for our neighbors who work daily to provide necessary services. We should demand that their lives be valued by our State and the companies who operate in our communities.

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From its office in Huntsville, the Blackwell Law Firm represents people in serious personal injury cases across Alabama. From car and truck accidents to workplace injuries, we believe in working hard so that our clients receive the maximum compensation available for their injuries. If you have questions about a personal injury issue, let us know. Consultations are always free.

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