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Peanut processor facing fines for safety breaches, worker death

By Rory Harrington , 08-Jan-2010

Birdsong Corp peanut processing company is facing fines of $137,250 after being cited for 41 health and safety violations by authorities in the United States.

The US Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced the proposed penalties against the Virginia-based firm after investigations uncovered a string of safety violations at its Georgia facilities over a four-month period. Some of the breaches were levelled against Birdsong following the death of one of its workers in an industrial accident.

The agency was highly critical of the company after three inspections between June and September 2009 all revealed infringements.

"Our inspections, and a worker fatality at the Blakely plant, show the need for management to get serious about the safety and health of its employees," said Robert Vazzi, OSHA's area director in Savannah.

The agency probe of Birdsong began last June, when officials uncovered 21 serious safety violations and one ‘other-than-serious’ violation at its Sylvester and Blakely plants. Problems included lack of machine guards, fall hazards, electrical hazards, a lack of emergency lighting and unmarked exit doors. Four more breaches – including three serious examples - were found the following month.

In September, a worker was killed after becoming trapped in a conveyor belt. The incident triggered what the OSHA called a “comprehensive inspection” which led to the issuing of three more serious safety violations and one other-than serious violation – including lack of machine guarding and lack of guardrails. During the investigation, officials became concerned about possible combustible dust hazards at the plant. A separate combustible dust inspection was launched – resulting in citation of 11 more serious violations.

The inspections resulted in proposed penalties of $137,250 - $88,200 for the Sylvester plant and $49,050 for the Blakely plant. The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA's area director or contest the citations and proposed penalties before an independent panel, said the OSHA.

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