Violations of OSHA’s confined spaces safety regulations led to the death of a worker on June 19, 2014, at Michael Foods Inc. in Wakefield, according to the agency. 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."
Failure to monitor
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.
Two per day
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.