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Region 7


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Dec. 9, 2014

Latino worker dies following exposure to nitrogen in tanker truck
at Michael Foods' Big Red Farms facility in Wakefield, Nebraska
US Department of Labor's OSHA cites 5 serious safety violations

WAKEFIELD, Neb. – Violations of the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration confined spaces safety regulations led to the death of a worker on June 19, 2014, at Michael Foods Inc. in Wakefield. The 23-year-old Latino worker was found unresponsive in a tanker truck at the company's Big Red Farms facility. He was conducting sampling of the tank, which contained egg products and nitrogen. OSHA has cited the company, known for producing such products as Papetti's, Crystal Farms, AllWhites and Simply Potatoes, for five serious safety violations, including exposing employees to nitrogen hazards.

"Confined spaces put workers at risk for serious injury and illness from hazards, such as poor atmospheric quality," said Bonita Winingham, OSHA's area director in Omaha. "This tragedy could have been prevented had the employer implemented basic safety precautions associated with confined spaces and nitrogen exposure."

OSHA's inspection found that Michael Foods failed to prevent employees from entering permit-required confined spaces. Related to this failure, the company did not ensure that emergency services were proficient in confined space rescues and that appropriate equipment for a confined space rescue could be used to perform one quickly. A confined space is one large enough for workers to enter and perform certain jobs, such as a tanker truck, but it has limited or restricted means for entry or exit and is not designed for continuous occupancy.

The company did not train workers on the health hazards related to atmospheric chemicals in the workplace; failed to evaluate respiratory hazards for employees sampling from nitrogen-filled tanks; and did not ensure employees wore appropriate eye protection when exposed to corrosive liquids. Exposure to nitrogen can cause respiratory irritation, and excess nitrogen can deplete oxygen, creating asphyxiation hazards.

An OSHA violation is serious if death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard an employer knew or should have known exists.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 797 Hispanic or Latino workers suffered fatal work-related injuries in 2013, which equates to nearly two each day. In Nebraska, three Latino workers lost their lives this year.

Michael Foods, based in Minnetonka, Minnesota, is a producer and distributor of food products to the food service, retail and food ingredient markets. Its principal products are eggs, refrigerated potatoes, cheese and other dairy products. The company operates five farms in Nebraska that raise chickens for egg production at the company's Wakefield plant. The company's other Wakefield facilities have been inspected by OSHA five times, which resulted in serious violations. This was the first inspection at the Big Red Farms facility.

OSHA has proposed fines totaling $30,900.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA's 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 Omaha Area Office at 402-553-0171.

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. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.

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Media Contacts:

Scott Allen, 312-353-6976, allen.scott@dol.gov
Rhonda Burke, 312-353-6976, burke.rhonda@dol.gov

Release Number: 14-2018-KAN


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