OSHA Cited MA Hummus Factory for “Willfully Ignoring” Safety Standards in Worker’s Death; Questions Raised on Severity of Fines

Following the horrific death of a factory employee at the Taunton hummus factory, Tribe Mediterranean Food, OSHA officials and factory administrators are coming under public scrutiny.

Daniel Collazo, 28, was killed in December 2011 when he became caught in the rotating screws that blend the hummus. Collazo attempted to free himself from the slowly-winding 9-inch blades, but his arms and part of his head became crushed in the process. In a desperate attempt to save the man, Collazo’s co-workers cut the machine’s power and tried to untangle Collazo from the machine. Tragically though, Collazo died in an ambulance en route to an area hospital.

Reflecting on the incident, both OSHA and public officials are saying that had the plant followed a standard set of safety procedures, specifically the safety practice “lock out/tag out,” which requires employees to be trained to cut power to machinery prior to cleaning, the entire incident and Collazo’s death could have been prevented. In fact, two years before Collazo’s death, the company had been fined by OSHA for failing to follow the safety procedure at another of its New England food processing plants. Company records indicated that Tribe’s own consultant had made note warning other administrators that failing to train workers the procedure created “an extreme safety risk” with “the probability that a fatality could occur is likely within a year’s timeframe,” according to the Boston Globe.

Following Collazo’s death, Tribe was issued a $540,000 fine by OSHA-one of the largest fines in New England in nearly a decade according to the Globe. Tribe was also issued 18 violations-imposing the most serious level of penalties because the company had “willfully ignored” three industry safety standards, according to the records. Those standards included “lock out/tag out,” which requires employers to adopt procedures and conduct training to ensure that employees power down major machinery during cleaning and maintenance.

OSHA’s report concluded that Tribe “was aware of deficiencies with its lock out/tag out program for almost two years and made a conscious decision not to abate those deficiencies” because fixing those issues was too expensive. Managers of Tribe’s owner, Tivall, and its Israeli parent, OSEM, toured the Taunton plant several times a year to prioritize projects, including safety measures, according to OSHA reports.

Since Collazo’s death three years ago, the company has passed all safety inspections. Edmund Fitzgerald, a spokesman for OSHA, stated that while the company has made the necessary fixes, “It should not take an OSHA inspection and large penalties and, most of all, the needless loss of a worker’s life, to compel an employer to adhere to workplace safety and health standards.”

Under OSHA law, employers are supposed to ensure safe working environments for their employees, as well as provide all of the necessary training to prevent worker injuries from occurring. When employers fail to meet safety standards and a worker is subsequently injured or killed because of this failure, the worker and his family may file for damages against the employer and any other responsible parties.

At the law offices of Altman & Altman, we understand that losing a family member is a devastating event, and that there is no amount of money to compensate for his or her loss of life. Yet the surviving spouse and/or the children of the worker may bring a workers’ compensation claim in order to receive financial relief for this loss. In fact, a spouse or children of the deceased worker may be entitled to recover 60% of the average weekly wage that the worker would have earned and other benefits depending on the circumstances.

If your loved one was recently injured or killed while working, do not hesitate to give our office a call to discuss your legal options, and whether you may qualify for filing a workers’ compensation claim or lawsuit. Our attorneys have nearly 50 years of experience handling all types of personal injury cases including workers’ compensation cases, and we have both the knowledge and compassion to help settle your case and direct you through this difficult time. Our team is available around the clock to assist you with any and all aspects regarding your case, and all initial consultations are completely free and confidential.

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