The loss of a digit by an employee ended up pointing the finger at Tyson Foods, the country's largest meat and poultry processor. Now, the company is in trouble with the federal government for endangering its employees due to unsafe work conditions in its plants.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced this week that it was going to fine Tyson $263,498 because the company was found to have violated regulations that left its employees in danger. Floors in the factories had holes in them, dangerous machinery didn't have guards, fire exits were obstructed, and chemicals were being used in a hazardous and improper manner.
In a press release, David Michaels, the assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, said, "Tyson Foods must do much more to prevent disfiguring injuries like this one from happening. As one of the nation's largest food suppliers, it should set an example for workplace safety rather than drawing multiple citations from OSHA for ongoing safety failures."
The problems came to OSHA's attention when a Tyson employee lost a finger back in February in a chicken processing plant in Texas. The worker's finger got stuck in a conveyor belt that was jammed with chicken parts. The belt did not have the requisite safety guards.
After inspecting the plant, OSHA found that employees were at risk not only due to the lack of safety guards, but also because of high carbon dioxide levels, and lack of training when it came to chemicals that are used as disinfectants.
MUNCHIES reached out to Tyson Foods, which provided us with the following statement: "We never want to see anyone hurt on the job, which is why we're committed to continual improvement in our workplace safety efforts. We fully cooperated with OSHA's inspection of our Center plant and intend to meet with OSHA officials in an effort to resolve these claims."
OSHA's enforcement actions came as part of the agency's recent focus on the poultry industry, following a number of reports that exposed the gruesome conditions endured by workers in these plants.
We've previously reported on how dangerous meat and poultry processing plants can be—and also how tough conditions can be for workers. Research from Oxfam America and the Government Accountability Office has brought attention to these problems. The US government's own report said that poultry and meat workers are at much higher risk of being injured on the job compared to other workers. They also get sick more than workers in other jobs like those in the manufacturing sector.
The fine probably won't be enough to make Tyson feel the pain, however. The company has more than $40 billion in annual sales. What's more, the fine could change, according to Juan Rodriguez of the Department of Labor in Dallas. He told ABC News that Tyson could accept the findings, challenge some, or appeal the fine in its entirety.
The worker in Texas, though, will never get that finger back.