Hutch plant is placed in enforcement program in wake of jobsite accident.
By John Green The Hutchinson News firstname.lastname@example.org Hutchinson's Tyson Foods plant has been cited by the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration for serious workplace safety violations after a worker's hand was severed by an unguarded conveyor belt last summer. The federal safety agency, noting seven serious violations at the plant at 521 S. Main St. over the last decade and that some of the most recent violations were considered "willful," ordered the plant placed under its Severe Violator Enforcement Program, meaning follow-up inspection will be made to ensure issues have been corrected. The agency has proposed a $147,000 fine against the plant for four violations found during its latest inspection. The company has 15 days to appeal the citations directly to OSHA or to an independent review commission. "Workplace safety is very important to everyone at our company," Tyson Public Relations Manager Worth Sparkman stated in an email. "We expect our employees to perform to the highest safety and health standards across Tyson Foods operations at all times. Our efforts include safety policies and training, and the involvement of workers in our safety committees. We're reviewing the citations and will work cooperatively with OSHA to resolve these concerns." The June 17 accident was blamed on safety guards being removed from a conveyor belt to clean it, but the equipment not being properly locked out to prevent it from being started. Four workers were cleaning the conveyor equipment at the end of their shift when Andrew Williams, 51, got his frock caught in the equipment and then his arm was pulled into moving gears. Williams, who lost his arm from the elbow down, was airlifted to Via Christi St. Francis campus in Wichita. The plant, which employs about 150 people, was cited for two willful violations: for removing railings which exposed workers to amputation hazards, and for failing to train workers on lockout/tagout procedures and locking out the equipment to prevent its unintentional operation. "Removing guards and failing to train workers in proper lockout procedures is inexcusable," Judy Freeman, OSHA's area director in Wichita, stated in a news release. "Tyson Foods failed to ensure safety procedures, demonstrating a lack of commitment to workplace safety and health and resulting in a tragic injury." A willful violation "is one committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirement, or with plain indifference to employee safety and health," the release stated. The inspection, prompted by the accident, also found a "serious violation" involving fall hazards, where workers have to ascend to an upper platform work area in two separate plant locations. The company failed to provide fixed stairs to reach the work areas. The fourth alleged violation was an "other-than-serious violation" involving a lack of legible markings on forklift levers. OSHA's Severe Violator Enforcement Program "focuses on recalcitrant employers that endanger workers by committing willful, repeat or failure-to-abate violations," according to the news release. Under the program, OSHA may inspect any of the employer's facilities "if it has reasonable grounds to believe there are similar violations." The Hutchinson plant has been inspected by OSHA five times in the past 10 years, according to OSHA, resulting in seven violations. Earlier this year, Tyson Foods - one of the world's largest processors and marketers of chicken, beef, pork and prepared foods - agreed to pay a $3.95 million civil penalty for chemical accidents at its plants in four states, including in Hutchinson and South Hutchinson. The settlement stemmed from a series of eight separate incidents between 2006 and 2010 involving accidental releases of anhydrous ammonia, including an Oct. 31, 2006, accident in South Hutchinson that killed a plant worker.