Gold Kist pays $724,000, agrees to requirements

Gold Kist, a food processing company based in Atlanta, has agreed to pay a $724,000 penalty for safety and health violations at a Florida poultry processing plant and to make extensive efforts to improve working conditions not only in its own plants but in the entire industry.

Gold Kist was issued citations as a result of inspections by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in Washington, DC, beginning in February 1998 at its Live Oak, FL, poultry processing plant. Under the terms of the settlement reached recently, the company agreed to pay the full penalty proposed by OSHA and make significant safety and health improvements throughout its work sites. The company also agreed to share information with other companies on process safety regarding ammonia refrigeration systems as part of an effort to improve safety throughout the industry.

The citations against the company included hazards related to the refrigeration systems, lockout/tagout, machine guarding, lack of hearing protection, bloodborne exposures, electrical hazards, and confined-space hazards.

The company employs 16,000 workers in five southeastern states. Labor unions supported the agreement between OSHA and the company, and OSHA officials have stated that Gold Kist is taking a proactive approach to correcting safety deficiencies in the poultry processing industry. Gold Kist's corporate safety director is responsible for implementing the terms of the agreement, which includes establishing a safety and health program based on OSHA's voluntary guidelines for safety and health program management.

Under the agreement, Gold Kist also is obligated to implement a three-year semi-annual inspection program at each of its nine poultry processing facilities. An independent safety audit must be conducted at each of the facility's ammonia refrigeration systems, and Gold Kist will implement an aggressive incident investigation procedure to address ammonia leaks.

In another OSHA development, a New Jersey contractor has been fined $232,000 for subjecting workers to what federal inspectors say were life-threatening conditions during trenching for sewer and water mains, and another has agreed to pay $724,000 for widespread violations.

The $232,000 in fines were proposed against Marbell, an excavation contractor in Carlstadt, NJ, that has been cited for numerous similar violations related to trenching hazards in the last decade. OSHA inspected Marbell work sites after police in Roxbury Township, NJ, reported their concerns to OSHA. The police department is a partner in Parsippany's Highway Construction Partnership Project, which seeks to reduce construction hazards.

The police told OSHA that Marbell employees were working in a 7-foot trench without proper protection against collapse. State and local officials told OSHA that they had repeatedly warned the contractor about exposing the workers to such dangers.

After inspecting the sites, OSHA fined Marbell for five willful violations - one for each day that workers were exposed to the hazard - involving failure to place protective systems in trenches deeper than 5 feet. Those violations accounted for $210,000 of the fine.

The company also was cited for failing to provide a proper exit from the trench, not providing hard hats, not providing proper protection from an undermined road surface, not preventing water from accumulating in trenches, and not protecting utility lines when working nearby with heavy equipment. Marbell can contest the fines.