OSHA investigating JBS for possible violations after settling violations levied in 2013
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has fined JBS $100,000 for plant safety violations in 2012 and 2013, but the company’s dealings with the regulatory agency are not over yet.
OSHA is now investigating a recent incident in which an employee was killed while working at the plant June 10. It may take OSHA a couple of months to come up with a report on the incident, said Herb Gibson, area director for OSHA’s Denver office.
“We’re still investigating to determine if there are violations,” Gibson said.
He said the incident — in which Ralph Horner, 54, of Wellington was somehow caught in some equipment and was killed — was the first fatality at the company in at least five years.
“They have a relatively good safety program,” Gibson said of JBS. “Can it improve? Absolutely. But we’ve worked with them and there’s a lot of things they’re doing correctly.”
JBS was cited for 11 violations OSHA inspectors found during inspections of the plant on Dec. 4, 2012, and May 1, 2013. Violations included serious issues involving workers being exposed to “potential fall hazards from elevated work areas, possible amputations due to the lack of proper machine guarding, not properly locking out equipment energy sources prior to performing maintenance work and failing to use safe work practices for electrical elements,” according to an OSHA news release last year.
OSHA had proposed fines of $83,414, but negotiations throughout the year increased those to $100,000. The settlement is not officially final, but Gibson said it’s highly likely it will become so in the coming weeks.
Gibson said an increased fine amount is part of the negotiation process.
“If the penalties went from $80,000 to $40,000, you’d think maybe the facts weren’t as good as they could be,” Gibson said. “I think both parties were trying to make the workplace as safe as possible. It’s part of the process of negotiating and resolving a case. We may modify a particular regulation or standard for things in exchange, so the company was going to bring different improvements” to the plant.
According to the settlement agreement, JBS agreed to not only pay the fine by May 23, but also take the following corrective actions:
» Conduct monthly carbon dioxide samplings until it can correct exposures to workers in areas where dry ice is used. JBS has until Oct. 14 to fix the problem.
» JBS had already extended emergency stop cords around the perimeter of the cryovacs at the facility adjacent to areas where employees stood or worked.
» Conduct refresher training for all qualified electricians and maintenance employees at the facility.
» Certify that it conducts daily safety inspections by its supervisors and periodic inspections by upper management, including machine guarding compliance.
» Hold a meeting between its training manger and union stewards to discuss and explain JBS’s safety training program and procedures for foreign language employees, and continue to evaluate training needs with regard to language issues.
Gibson said its too early to tell if the June 10 fatality involved a violation at all, let alone a possible repeat offense of the violations for which the company was fined and just corrected. He said it wouldn’t be fair to speculate.
“We haven’t issued citations,” Gibson said, “and we’re trying to determine if there were any violations of safety standards. We’re still investigating and hope to make sure that tragic accidents like this don’t happen in the future.”
JBS officials did not respond to a request for comment on the fines.
In Other JBS News — JBS workers overwhelmingly approve new contract
An overwhelming majority of JBS’s 3,000 workers have approved a new contract with the company, closing out almost a year-long stalemate and averting a strike.
JBS meatpacking plant workers on Tuesday voted 97 percent in favor of a new contract with the company, said Kevin Schneider, secretary treasurer for United Food and Commercial Workers Local No. 7.
The union had been negotiating a new contract with JBS for the last year, with both sides so far apart that workers authorized a strike in recent weeks.
Last-ditch efforts, however, averted the strike, union officials reported last week, as they reached an agreement on a variety of issues.
Union officials reported that the biggest hang-up on negotiations was in the company’s proposed health-care plan, which would substantially increase worker’s out-of-pocket costs. The company also was proposing to have the power to change the plan at its will, which didn’t sit well with employees.
In a release last week, union officials stated they had reached an agreement on “affordable health insurance, which is guaranteed for the life of the contract.”
Other items — what the union sees as gains — include:
» $1.80 hourly pay increase over the five-year term of the agreement.
» $0.60 per hour increase on the first year, which will be paid retroactively to the original contract expiration date of the contract, Sept. 29, 2013.
» Additional grade increases for 21 specific jobs.
» Funeral and bereavement leave, which will now allow time off with pay for grieving, and adds aunts, uncles and grandparents to the list of immediate family members.
» Plant wide seniority for job bidding.
» Improved safety committee.
» Vacation scheduling language that guarantees seniority rights.
» Separate vacation payments.
» Benefits and guarantees in case of plant closing or shift elimination.
» Joint Labor Management Committee to improve workforce issues, worker’s compensation, immigration issues, child care and crewing standards.
» The right to opt out of direct deposit and electronic payment systems. ❖
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I want to address a couple of issues in this week’s editor’s note.