OSHA proposes nearly $2 million penalty against Cincinnati meat processing plant
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration is proposing a $1.9 million penalty on a Cincinnati meat processing plant, accusing it of ignoring worker safety standards. The processing plant has had a history of safety violations, and in 2017 OSHA added the company to its severe violator enforcement program.
The penalty comes after a serious accident last October when a 29-year-old temporary worker, who’d been there nine months, fell inside a moving industrial blender while cleaning it. His leg had to be amputated.
After an investigation, OSHA determined the company, Netherlands-based Zwanenberg Food Group USA, had not trained sanitation workers on how to properly shutdown and lock equipment prior to cleaning, exposing them to moving machine parts.
"This young man suffered a preventable debilitating injury because his employer failed to train him and the majority of its third-shift sanitation workers adequately to lockout equipment to ensure their own safety," OSHA Regional Administrator Bill Donovan said in a statement.
OSHA’s penalties include 11 willful, four serious and one repeat violations. The plant had also been cited for similar violations less than two weeks before the accident
Zwanenberg spokesperson Jon Austin said the company met with OSHA officials on April 11 to outline safety training provided to all Zwanenberg employees.
"We respect OSHA’s authority and its mission to protect America’s work force and enforce safety standards but we disagree with the agency’s citations and fine in this matter,” Austin said in a statement. “We look forward to trying to resolve our open issues and have agreed to conduct additional joint meetings to see if further legal proceedings can be avoided.”
A 2020 study analyzed over 1.3 million workers’ compensation claims in Ohio from 2001 to 2013 to compare the injury risk of temporary and permanent workers. The study found workers at temporary agencies had higher overall injury rates.
Gretchen Purser, a Syracuse University professor studying labor, said injuries related to poor training among temporary workers are common, in part due to weak labor protections.
“Sometimes temporary workers are there for like a few days or even just the day. And so they're constantly circulating through different workplaces. They're unfamiliar with the workplace by definition. They're unfamiliar with the coworkers,” Purser said. “And all of that exacerbates their level of risk of injury and fatality.”
Purser added temporary workers already are usually assigned the most dangerous jobs and often the responsibility of who’s accountable for training the workers is unclear.
“There needs to be greater regulation of the staffing industry,” Purser said. “And we need to make it a lot easier for workers to unionize. All of the research has shown that in unionized workplaces, workers are far less likely to experience injury or fatalities.”
The company can either contest the violation or pay the $1.9 million dollar fine. If it chooses to contest, the case would go before an independent occupational review commission. An administrative law judge would make the final decision on the citations and penalties.
Alejandro Figueroa is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.