Decoster Egg Farm case still leading to fines

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited four successor companies to the former Decoster Egg Farm of Turner, ME, for alleged repeat, serious, and other than serious violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and has proposed combined penalties of $125,600 against the companies.

According to C. William Freeman III, OSHA area director for Maine, the alleged violations were discovered during follow-up inspections initiated June 12, 2000, to determine the companies’ compliance with earlier settlement agreements and correction of hazards cited in earlier inspections.

On June 12, 1996, OSHA cited Decoster Egg Farms, the world’s largest producer of brown eggs, for numerous egregious safety and health violations at its Turner, ME, egg farm and proposed $3.6 million in fines.

In May 1997, Decoster Egg Farms entered into a comprehensive settlement agreement which required correction of all cited hazards, development of a comprehensive safety and health program, procurement of a safety director, an independent audit and payment of a $2 million fine.

In September 1997, A.J. "Jack" Decoster contracted with four new companies, owned by former Decoster Egg Farm employees, to raise chickens, transport eggs, market eggs, and service equipment. OSHA inspections conducted between November 1998 and June 1999 resulted in the companies being cited for a total of 78 violations for which they paid $224,625 in fines.

With regard to the current situation, "the overall number of citations has declined from previous inspections; these latest inspections still identified several instances where significant safety and health problems reoccurred," Freeman says.

The most serious of these include structurally unsound or unsupported roof rafters and elevated catwalks in outbuildings, failure to ensure that employees knew how to properly clean and disinfect respirators, allowing an employee to use torn gloves while removing chicken carcasses, having employees consume food in unsanitary locations, the use of defective cranes and trucks, contaminated and defective eyewash facilities, and unprotected propane fuel tanks.

"Though progress has been made, such backsliding is indefensible," he says. "These companies must intensify and improve upon their previously stated commitment to provide a safe and healthful work environment."

These were the companies cited:

Maine Contract Farming, which operates the feed mill, hatchery, brooder barn system, and egg-laying complex. The company faces $77,000 in penalties for five alleged repeat, five alleged serious, and one alleged other than serious violation for such hazards as defective and unsafe manure trucks, fall hazards, inadequately supported catwalks and roof rafters in outbuildings, unsanitary respirators, ungrounded and unapproved electrical equipment, employees eating in unsanitary locations, LP gas tanks not protected against vehicular traffic, failure to lock out machinery prior to maintenance, and allowing an employee to use torn gloves while handling dead chickens.

Maine AG, an egg grading and packing company. It faces $27,200 in proposed fines, for four alleged repeat violations involving contaminated and defective eyewash stations, failure to lock out egg packing machinery before performing maintenance in order to prevent its accidental startup, ungrounded electrical equipment, and unsanitary respirators.

Turner Maintenance and Services Inc., which services equipment for all firms at the farm. It faces $16,800 in proposed fines for three alleged repeat, one alleged serious, and three alleged other than serious violations for hazards involving an uninspected and defective crane, unmarked exits, an unmarked floor jack, failure to use a seat belt while operating a tractor, unlabeled oil containers, uninspected fire extinguishers, and lack of strain relief for an electric cord.

PFS Loading Services Inc., a chicken delivery company. It faces $4,600 in fines for one alleged repeat and one alleged serious violation concerning fall hazards and unsanitary respirators.