Daniel Collazo Torres

Hometown: Fall River, Mass.
Employed by: Monroe Staffing
Worked for: Tribe Mediterranean Foods, Taunton, Mass.
What Happened: Collazo died when he was pulled into a hummus grinder he was cleaning and crushed between two large rotating screws.

Read more about Daniel in the Voices of Worker Safety[6]»

Travis Kidd

Hometown: Mooresboro, N.C.
Employed by: WorkForce Staffing
Worked for: Cleveland County-Self McNeilly Landfill, Shelby, N.C.
What Happened: Kidd died when he was run over by a trash compactor while directing traffic at the county landfill.

Read more about Travis in the Voices of Worker Safety[6]»

Mark Jefferson

Hometown: Trenton, N.J.
Employed by: Labor Ready
Worked for: Waste Management, Trenton, N.J.
What Happened: Jefferson died from heat exhaustion after nine hours of collecting garbage in 90-degree heat.

Read more about Mark in the Voices of Worker Safety[6]»

Inadequate training also played a part in the death of Daniel Collazo Torres, 28, in December 2011. He was killed at Nestlé-owned Tribe Mediterranean Foods in Massachusetts when he got caught in a hummus grinder he was cleaning and was crushed between two large rotating screws. OSHA found that Tribe had not trained Collazo and other temps how to properly shut down the machines.

Resolute, Tradesmen and Tribe declined to comment. Industrial Piping did not return calls.

It's quite common for temps to be put to work without even the most rudimentary protective equipment, according to OSHA records and interviews.

In Massachusetts, temp workers at fish processing plants said they were assigned the messy job of gutting fish, but none were given safety glasses to keep fish blood out of their eyes. Some temp workers in Chicago said they were brought to a work site in T-shirts, only to find that they would be working in a refrigerated warehouse. Sometimes companies provide safety gear, but the temp agency deducts the cost from the employees’ paychecks – as OSHA found when it investigated a large waste management company after a Houston temp worker died from heat stroke.

Travis Kidd, 24, died when he was run over by a trash compactor while directing traffic at a county landfill in North Carolina in 2010. OSHA inspectors found that, unlike direct employees, Kidd, a temp from WorkForce Staffing, was not provided with steel-toe boots for the slippery conditions or a phone to communicate with the drivers.

“Landfill management felt they were not responsible to require or provide Mr. Kidd with the same PPE [personal protective equipment] because they considered him a temporary employee and not their employee,” OSHA wrote in its report.

Landfill director Sam Lockridge said Kidd’s death was an accident and that he’s not convinced the boots would have saved his life. A manager who answered the phone at WorkForce Staffing said it wasn’t true that Kidd wasn’t given the same safety equipment as the landfill’s employees. She declined to discuss the case further and hung up the phone.

Heat stress is another problem that hits new workers especially hard. Federal health and safety officials say that it’s important for employers to acclimate workers to high temperatures by exposing them to those conditions for progressively longer period of times.

Mark Jefferson, a temp worker from Labor Ready near Trenton, N.J., hadn’t worked outside in the heat for nearly three weeks when he was assigned to a long day collecting trash for Waste Management during a heat wave in 2012. After nine hours of throwing garbage into the truck in 90-degree heat, Jefferson told the driver he couldn’t go on and walked away from the vehicle.

The driver called the dispatcher, who told him to pour water on Jefferson and finish the route, according to police. But when the driver found him, Jefferson was convulsing and mumbling. His internal temperature reached 106.9 degrees, and he died three days later. Jefferson, 47, was at least the fourth temp worker in 15 years to be killed while working for Waste Management, a company that over the years has been repeatedly warned by OSHA about its failure to train temp workers.

Both Waste Management and Labor Ready said they were committed to providing a safe workplace and have developed multiple levels of training to prevent accidents.

The deaths examined in OSHA’s files match a pattern that Michael Foley, an economist at the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries, has found in reviewing the state’s workers’ comp files on temp worker injuries.

“A lot of it is the scut work, the work nobody wants to do,” he said. “The way they are being used is to protect the skilled tradesmen from the dirty cleanup jobs. They’re brought to the site, and they’re basically pointed in the way of the Dumpster. There’s no oversight, there’s no supervision and they face risks they’re not experienced to deal with.”

Melinda Finnegan, owner of Staff-Smart Staffing in Missouri, said temp agencies should visit the work sites to understand the potential hazards. In the past, she’s encountered companies that hire workers for one task but then assign them to something more dangerous.

“I pull ’em,” she said. “One plant, they had them way up in the ceiling in one of those cherry-picker forklifts. I said, ‘If you want to do it for your own person, that’s fine; that’s your workers’ compensation costs.’”


But often, she said, if she won’t provide workers, the host company will find another temp agency that will.

*          *          *

Since its founder Facundo Bacardi experimented with the first batch in a tin-roof Cuban distillery in 1862, Bacardi has grown into an international brand synonymous with rum. It books an estimated $5 billion in annual revenue, and it has added other iconic brands, including Grey Goose vodka, Bombay Sapphire gin and Dewar’s Scotch.

Like many factories, the Bacardi bottling plant in Jacksonville had built temping into its normal business model, hiring dozens of temps on a daily basis to inspect bottles, make boxes and clean up around machines, according to OSHA records. Some temps worked for two or even three years, never getting hired as Bacardi employees.

Bacardi’s agency of choice was Remedy Intelligent Staffing, a franchise located in a nearby strip mall between a hair salon and a Mexican restaurant. But the modest storefront belies its size. Remedy is part of the Select Family of Staffing Companies, a California-based chain that grew dramatically in the mid-2000s to become the fourth-largest industrial temp agency in the United States. Select had $1.9 billion in revenue in 2012.

Still, Select has had its share of problems. In 2011, it was handed a $50 million jury verdict finding it had committed fraud in an effort to lower its workers’ comp costs; the company settled with the California state insurance fund for an undisclosed amount. In Chicago, it used immigrant labor brokers known as raiteros[8], who, workers say, took advantage of them with high fees. A few months after Davis’ first day, a Select temp in North Carolina was killed after getting caught in a machine at a Melba toast factory.

Select spokeswoman Wendy Ballard referred calls to Brian Rose, who owns the Select franchise office that hired Davis. Rose did not return calls or emails.

According to OSHA investigative files from 2012 and 2013, the Bacardi factory where Davis landed his job had for years been operating with “plain indifference” and an “intentional disregard” for safety rules.

“Routinely, bottles would fall from the conveyors when a case of bottles became wet from damaged bottles inside the cases,” an OSHA inspector wrote. The sticky flavored rum would leak onto the rollers, compounding the problem. But whenever the operator stopped the conveyor, the other cases would slam into one another, causing more bottles to fall 10 feet and shatter on the floor.

Despite this, and despite a recommendation from an outside consultant that employees wear hard hats when working under the conveyors, Bacardi failed to require them and failed to fix the problem.

The worker who ran the giant machines that pushed and stacked the cases of rum onto pallets was in a race against production quotas. Often overseeing multiple palletizers by himself, he would run across catwalks and up small bridges, which had been built over the conveyors, to ensure the cases stayed in line. Sometimes, operators of the machines tripped or nearly banged their heads. One employee who told OSHA he was “working three shrink wrappers and five palletizers at the same time,” recalled a near miss when his right leg almost got caught by a mechanical rake.

One of the most basic tenets of factory safety is that when you shut down a machine to service it, you don’t just hit the off switch; you also disconnect the power source and lock the machine to ensure it doesn’t start up accidentally.

But at Bacardi, employees rarely did this when working inside the palletizers, for fear of slowing down production, according to OSHA. While they had received general training for the shutdown procedures known as “lock out/tag out,” several operators said they had never received specific training on the palletizers. The security officer who was supposed to periodically ensure that workers knew how to lock the machines didn’t know how to do it himself. Even the health and safety manager, Lesley Toke, and the bottling manager, Tom Brouillette, incorrectly stated that workers could enter machines briefly without locking them, OSHA said. In fact, during the OSHA inspection, Brouillette himself reached into a machine while it was running, according to investigators’ notes.

While instructions were taped to the palletizer, they were “convoluted and confusing,” an OSHA inspector wrote. The fact that workers didn’t know how to shut down machines properly had been an item of discussion during monthly safety committee meetings since 2010. But Bacardi failed to fix the problem. Instead, investigators wrote, “the employer had trained their operators to cut corners” and keep the lines moving.

About a week before Davis started, a Bacardi worker told OSHA, Brouillette held a meeting with staff to show them that production statistics were “in the red” and that they needed to pick up the pace. How would they feel, he warned, if their pay was cut to 32 percent of their current wages?

Brouillette declined to comment, and Toke did not return calls.

Bacardi is “production, product and profits oriented,” an OSHA investigator would later write. “They do not want to slow down production and spend funds on temporary employees who may not be in their facility day-to-day. Not training these temporary employees saves the company valuable training time. This would equate to [Bacardi] showing ownership of the employee and establishing more risk for their company, which they are trying to limit.”

Alise Cherry, the night coordinator for Remedy at Bacardi, told OSHA, “When people come in, they don’t tell them what not to do.”

*          *          *

As troubled as the Bacardi factory seems, the situation wasn’t that different from other work environments that temp workers describe. Gretchen Purser, a sociologist at Syracuse University, said she routinely encountered unsafe situations when she went undercover to work as a temp laborer for three years in Baltimore and Oakland, Calif.

By doing so, she said, she also learned several methods that temp labor agencies use to discourage their workers from reporting injuries.

First, she often had to sign day-to-day contracts, which stated that at the end of each workday, temp workers will be “deemed to have quit” until they report to the dispatch hall the next morning. At the end of the day, before receiving her wages, she typically had to sign a form saying that she didn’t encounter any unsafe work conditions.

Then there is what’s known in the industry as a “DNR,” which is short for “Do Not Return.” Essentially, any host company can write “DNR” on the back of the work slip for any reason, telling the agency not to send that worker again. The more DNRs a worker gets, the less likely he is to be assigned, Purser said.

Purser recounted one job where she worked as a traffic flagger on a rural road that was under construction. She said that she and her co-worker were stranded for nine hours in 100-degree heat without a break and without access to water. Finally, her co-worker left his post to find out when they could leave. Both of them went back to the agency with a DNR on their slips.

“It’s very difficult to stand up for your own safety,” she said, “because the end result is a DNR.”

This is a major reason why temps may get injured at even higher rates than the ProPublica analysis showed. “The temp agency is in this position of rehiring them over and over again or not hiring them,” said Linda Forst, an environmental and occupational health sciences professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “So that’s a huge disincentive to report” workplace injuries, she said. “I think the number of temp workers who report is really low. I think it’s the tip of the iceberg.”

One temp worker in the Chicago suburbs showed a visitor a large purple mark running the length of her shin, which she said remained three years after she tripped at a Philips Norelco warehouse and fell onto a pallet. She said a supervisor saw what happened and told her she would get help. But no help came. So the woman, who asked not be identified, worked through the pain, and the local taxpayers picked up the bill when she went to the county hospital several days later with a blood infection.

“I didn’t say anything else to her, because I knew if I complained again, the temp agency wouldn’t send me to work anymore,” the woman said.

Philips Norelco did not return calls for comment.

Workers’ comp documents obtained by ProPublica show that some temps have lost work after filing claims.

Jose Miguel Rojo worked as a temp for eight years at Great Kitchens, a Chicago-area factory that makes frozen pizza for Walmart, Target and Trader Joe’s. Five, sometimes six days a week, eight hours a day, Rojo stood at the end of the assembly line, picking up six frozen pizzas at a time and putting them in a box. Once the pallet was full, he said, he would push it for a forklift to pick up.

Then, one day in late 2012, as he was reaching over to push the pallet, he strained his back, medical records show. Rojo did receive workers’ compensation. But as a condition of settling his claim, he had to sign a statement saying that “unrelated to this incident, [he] chose to quit and seek gainful employment elsewhere.”

So after eight years as a temp for Great Kitchens, he was gone.

Great Kitchens declined to comment. The temp agency, Staffing Network, said Rojo quit on his own accord and was not fired for filing a claim.

There are other reasons temp workers might be less likely to report injuries, workers’ comp experts said. The likelihood of a worker filing an injury claim often depends on how informed he or she is about the process. But compared with regular workers, temps are less educated on average, far less likely to be represented by a union and far more likely not to speak English. In addition, many temp workers are undocumented, making them particularly wary of formal complaints.

In central New Jersey, many workers said they are not told where they’re working – an essential piece of information should they have to file for workers’ comp. The agency dispatchers dole out assignments using generic Spanish names: las pastillas, packaging pills for pharmacies; los libros, loading books to be trucked to superstores; or shipping lingerie to discount clothing stores – a warehouse known universally as los panties.

*          *          *

Ninety minutes into his first day on the first job of his life, Day Davis was called over to help at Palletizer No. 4 at the Bacardi bottling plant in Jacksonville, Fla. Watch what happens next.[9]

Inside Warehouse No. 7 at Bacardi, Palletizer No. 4 was having problems on the afternoon of Aug. 16, 2012. This account of what happened at the bottling plant is based on police reports, witness statements, OSHA investigators’ notes, interviews and a Bacardi surveillance video.

When the palletizer was working properly, boxes of rum bottles would travel down a conveyor belt to a platform, where the machine would push them into a square. When the platform was full, it would lower the cases onto a pallet 10 feet below, then go back up to get another set of cases.

But on this night, bottles of Bacardi Dragon Berry – a new rum flavored with strawberry and dragon fruit – were breaking on the line. Vincent Flournoy, the operator, wiped the conveyor with a rag.

Brouillette’s warnings about production goals weighed heavy on Flournoy’s mind, he later told OSHA, and he was in a rush to keep up with quotas. But cases kept getting stuck and slamming into one another. There were a lot of broken bottles in the palletizer and under the machine.

Flournoy, a full-time Bacardi employee, hit the emergency stop button. According to OSHA, he was then supposed to attach a lock to ensure that no one could come by and turn on the machine while someone else was inside it. Then he was supposed to go downstairs and hit another emergency stop button and insert two bars to prevent the platform from falling. But Flournoy did as he had been trained and did not shut down the machine completely.

“When the palletizer slows down he gets numerous calls on his radio about getting the lines up and running again,” according to the OSHA file. Shutting down the machine properly “would mean slowing down production and not reaching their goals.”

Instead, Flournoy climbed into the machine and began picking up glass and tossing out the mangled boxes. He radioed for help, asking if anyone had any extra temp workers.

Davis, who was inspecting bottles on the conveyor to ensure labels were attached correctly, was called over to help. He had just started 90 minutes earlier and, a supervisor later said, he was “gung ho” and wanted to “get the job done.”

He ran over to the palletizer, following Flournoy. Flournoy pointed down below and told him to sweep the shattered glass from under the machine while Flournoy and a Bacardi supervisor, Louis Wrice, cleaned the belt and rollers on top. Davis grabbed a short broom, climbed under the machine and began sweeping up the shards of broken bottles and pulling out those that were still intact. The records don’t say if he was confused about what he was doing, but investigators’ notes show that he paused and looked around several times, eventually going back upstairs to talk with Flournoy and Wrice.

It’s unclear what they discussed. Wrice told OSHA he had instructed Davis to wait. Others said Wrice only yelled at Davis to get some safety gloves. Either way, Davis went back downstairs. After pulling the glass forward with a long broom, he went under the palletizer again and began sweeping glass into a dustpan.

Back upstairs, Flournoy and Wrice finished cleaning, shut the safety gate and, at 4:49 p.m., started the machine. The cases began rolling down the line. The palletizer began pushing them into a square. Davis, who was still underneath the machine, began to stand up halfway. But just then, the platform carrying as many as 60 cases of rum, weighing about 2,000 pounds, came crashing down.

“It was like an elevator coming down on him,”Jeffrey Romeo, OSHA’s assistant area director, wrote to colleagues in an email.

Flournoy and Wrice heard a yell. They raced downstairs and tried to pry up the platform. They climbed up and started pulling cases off. But nothing worked.

“Jacksonville 911,” the operator answered.

“Yes, ma’am, I need an ambulance.”

*          *          *

“That whole day, I was waiting on him to text me or call me and tell me about his day,” Alicia Lloyd said. “I tried texting and calling, but there was no answer.”

Davis’ mother, Tonya Washington, hadn’t heard from him, either. “You know, guys, it’s a new place,” a family friend reassured them. He was probably socializing and meeting his new co-workers.

But Day Davis never made it to his first break.

When paramedics got to Bacardi a few minutes after the accident, they found that the weight of the platform had crushed him. Davis died right there on the factory floor.

Unaware of what had happened, Washington was getting ready to pick him up at the end of his shift when she heard a knock on her apartment door. It was 10:15 p.m.

“I knew it couldn’t have been anything good for a detective to be coming to my house,” she said, sitting at her kitchen table a year later. “He asked if I was Tonya Washington, and I told him, ‘Yeah.’ That’s when he said there was an accident and told me that Lawrence was killed.”

She removed her glasses and rubbed her eyes. After about two minutes of silence, she continued.

“I asked them if they were sure, and they said they were positive, and that’s when they handed me his identification,” she said. “After that, I don’t know what to tell you. It was just a long, long period of numbness.”

Somebody had to tell his fiancee. So around 11 p.m., Davis’ sister, Nia, called. “She couldn’t tell me what was wrong,” Lloyd said. “I heard her voice just crackle, and then her brother got on the phone, and he couldn’t tell me. Someone else got on the phone, I don’t know who it was, but they finally told me he had passed away.”