Federal officials: Hattiesburg poultry plant responsible for teenager’s death

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The U.S. Department of Labor is blaming a Hattiesburg poultry processing plant for the death of a teenage employee.

Federal officials with the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) allege that Mar-Jac Poultry disregarded safety standards that led to the death of 16-year-old Duvan Thomas Perez on July 14, 2023. The teen was reportedly pulled into a machine while deep cleaning the plant’s deboning area.

While sanitizing the still-energized machine, the teen was caught in the rotating shaft and sprockets and pulled in, sustaining fatal injuries.

Investigators found that – despite a manager’s supervision in and around the area before and during the fatal incident – lockout procedures were not utilized to disconnect power to the machine and a tagout device was not used to prevent the machine from unintentionally starting during the cleaning.

“Mar-Jac Poultry is aware of how dangerous the machinery they use can be when safety standards are not in place to prevent serious injury and death,” OSHA Regional Administrator Kurt Petermeyer said. “The company’s inaction has directly led to this terrible tragedy, which has left so many to mourn this child’s preventable death.”

OSHA cited Mar-Jac Poultry with 14 serious and three other-than-serious violations after finding the company failed to:

  • Ensure energy control procedures were used to prevent the unexpected start-up of machines while employees performed sanitation, exposing workers to caught-in hazards.
  • Ensure employees use lockout/tagout devices on machinery when performing cleaning.
  • Ensure an energy control procedure includes specific steps for blocking and securing portions of the machinery while workers perform cleaning.
  • Failed to ensure the machinery retained guarding to prevent employees from entering danger zones while the machinery was in operation.
  • Cover open holes in 480-volt electrical cabinets, exposing workers to electrical hazards.
  • Prevent workers from using portable ladders incorrectly to gain access to elevated work surfaces, exposing workers to fall hazards.

OSHA has proposed $212,646 in penalties, an amount set by federal statute. This is the third death the plant has experienced since 2020.

Officials previously cited Mar-Jac Poultry after a May 31, 2021, incident in which 48-year-old Bobby Butler’s shirt sleeve was caught in a machine and he was pulled in with his body against the support and the machine’s carousel, resulting in fatal injuries.

Hattiesburg police confirmed that 33-year-old Joel Velasco Toto passed away in December 2020 after allegedly “horse playing” with equipment at the facility.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

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