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Feds Fine Pilgrim's Pride for Safety Violations at De Queen Plant

Government agency says company exposed workers to chemical hazards, must pay $170,000 fine.
LITTLE ROCK, AR (News Release) - The De Queen poultry processing plant owned by Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. has been cited with 11 safety violations and proposed penalties totaling $170,000 by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration for exposing workers to hazardous chemicals. 

The inspection, which began in January, was initiated under the agency’s Process Safety Management (PSM) Covered Chemical Facilities National Emphasis Program. PSM encompasses a detailed set of requirements and procedures employers must follow to address hazards proactively that are associated with processes and equipment that use large amounts of hazardous chemicals. In this case, it’s the use of anhydrous ammonia in the refrigeration system.  

A willful violation, with a $70,000 fine, was cited for failing to document that the emergency shutdown system for the engine room was designed to ensure that the mechanical ventilation system was activated by an ammonia leak. A willful violation is one committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for the law’s requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.

The nine serious violations, with a $61,500 fine, were cited for PSM deficiencies of the relief valves and failing to provide process hazard analysis, operating procedures, testing procedures and management of change procedures. A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known. 

The repeat violation, with a fine of $38,500, was cited for failing to ensure the adequate frequency of self-inspections and tests of ammonia refrigeration equipment and vessels. A repeat violation exists when an employer previously has been cited for the same or a similar violation of a standard, regulation, rule or order at any other facility in federal enforcement states within the last five years. A similar violation was cited in 2011.

“Process safety management prevents the unexpected release of toxic, reactive or flammable liquids and gases in processes involving highly hazardous chemicals,” said Carlos Reynolds, OSHA’s area director in Little Rock. “It’s vital that Pilgrim’s Pride ensure safeguards are in place to protect the safety of workers at its work sites.”

Click here or here to read the full citations.

The company, headquartered in Greeley, Colo., employs about 1,400 workers at the De Queen plant. It has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with the area director or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. 

To ask questions, obtain compliance assistance, file a complaint, or report workplace hospitalizations, fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to workers, the public should call OSHA’s toll-free hotline at 800-321-OSHA (6742) or the agency’s Little Rock office at (501) 224-1841. 

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance.
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