Report: Employer Warned of “Extreme Risk” Prior to Worker’s Death

Workers at a hummus manufacturer in Massachusetts were rounding out their day when they heard the piercing screams of their 28-year-old colleague. He’d become trapped in rotating screws that blend the hummus. His co-workers tried desperately to free him from the slow-churning, 9-inch blades.
The temporary worker’s arms were crushed and part of his head was severely injured. He died before an ambulance could transport him to the hospital.

Horrific as his 2011 death was, our Asheville workers’ compensation lawyers understand it was entirely preventable. In fact, federal officials recently concluded a report on the accident indicating that had the plant implemented a basic practice known as lock out/tag out, which requires workers to cut power to machinery before cleaning, it would never have happened. Worse, this company had been warned two years earlier that serious risk of death was imminent if this practice wasn’t implemented.

Surviving families of temporary workers killed on the job in North Carolina are entitled to receive death benefits through the employer’s workers’ compensation program. These may include up to 500 weeks of compensation at 66 and two-thirds percent of the worker’s average weekly wage. It may continue for longer if a surviving spouse is unable to support himself or herself due to disability at the time of the worker’s death.

Compensation for child dependents may continue until that child reaches the age of 18, and funeral expenses are allowed for up to $10,000.

For temporary workers, these benefits must be sought through the employment agency. In cases like this where there may have been negligence on the part of a third-party employer, a third-party wrongful death lawsuit may be an appropriate course of action.

In this case, federal officials fined the employer for failing to follow proper safety protocol some 24 months prior to this deadly accident. An in-house consultant specifically warned of the failure to introduce the lock out/tag out method to its workers. The consultant even issued a report indicating that if stronger precautions weren’t adopted immediately, the probability of a fatality within one year was “likely certain.”

For the temporary worker’s death, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration issued a $540,000 fine to the man’s employer – one of the largest on record.

Unfortunately, fines like this are exceedingly rare. Most of the time, whatever fines OSHA levies are far less expensive than what it would cost for companies to address the underlying safety issues. Thus, worker casualties become a “cost of doing business.”

The company insists safety protocol have been updated and the firm has taken measures to ensure this never happens again. But it shouldn’t take a worker’s serious injury or death to make this happen.

Plus, while a fine of a half-million dollars sounds significant, consider that the parent company of this manufacturer raked in some $110 million profits on $1.2 billion in revenue just last year.

The worker here was part of a cleaning crew who earned $12 hourly. He was working toward the purchase of a home for his 5-year-old daughter, who still lived in his native Puerto Rico. He had been unable to find work there, so he moved to the U.S., hoping to be able to earn enough to give his daughter a comfortable life.

At the time of the incident, officials say the floor was slippery with soap and chick pea paste, though it’s not clear if the worker slipped and fell into the blades or simply got caught in them while attempting to complete a task.

OSHA would later cite the company for 18 violations in connection with his death, including willfully ignoring three basic industry safety standards.

If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Hummus Maker Warned of ‘Extreme Safety Risk’ Before Temp Worker’s Death, May 12, 2014, By Michael Grabell, Problica, and Megan Woolhouse, The Bosto lobe

More Blog Entries
Steel Foundary Fined $2.4 Million for Safety Violations, May 5, 2014, Asheville Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

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