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Poultry plant slapped with $213K fine after 16-year-old died in deboning machine, the second fatality at plant in 2 years
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Poultry plant slapped with $213K fine after 16-year-old died in deboning machine, the second fatality at plant in 2 years

OSHA has now assessed an American poultry company a fine of over $200,000 after a teen, who was too young to work at its Mississippi plant, died last summer while cleaning some dangerous equipment.

In July, 16-year-old Duvan Tomas Perez was performing a deep clean of the deboning machine at the Mar-Jac Poultry plant in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, located about 75 miles north of the Gulf Coast.

What happened next sounds like a scene from a horror movie. As Perez was cleaning, the machine, which was still connected to an energy source, accidentally turned on, and "the teen was caught in the rotating shaft and sprockets and pulled in," said a statement released last week by the U.S. Department of Labor. Perez died as a result of his injuries.

"[L]ockout/tagout procedures were not utilized to disconnect power to the machine and a lockout/tagout device was not used to prevent the machine from unintentionally starting during the cleaning," even though there was a manager on duty in the area, the statement explained.

After an investigation into Perez's death, OSHA cited Mar-Jac Poultry for "14 serious and three other-than-serious violations," including failing to enforce safety protocols regarding de-energizing machines and otherwise preventing machines from suddenly restarting during cleaning. OSHA also issued the company a fine of $212,646.

"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," said OSHA regional administrator Kurt Petermeyer. "The company’s inaction has directly led to this terrible tragedy, which has left so many to mourn this child’s preventable death."

Perez was an immigrant from Guatemala, though whether he was in the U.S. legally or illegally is unknown. He had been in this country six years at the time of his death.

Perez was originally hired by Onin Staffing, which then contracted him to Mar-Jac. According to reports, Perez had used the identity of a 32-year-old man to bypass state laws preventing those under 18 from working in poultry plants because of the dangers associated with them.

Immediately after his death, Mar-Jac denied knowing that he was underage before the accident occurred. It also claimed that third-party staffing agencies like Onin are responsible for verifying that employees meet the necessary qualifications for work in the plant.

OSHA's Wage and Hour Division has opened an investigation into possible child-labor law violations in this case. That investigation remains pending.

As tragic as Perez's death was, it was actually the second death at the Mar-Jac Poultry plant in Hattiesburg in as many years. In May 2021, another employee was killed when his or her sleeve became caught in a machine, pinning the individual to "the support and the machine’s carousel" while it was still operating.

"Following the fatal incident in May 2021 Mar-Jac Poultry should have enforced strict safety standards in its facility," Petermeyer added. "Only about two years later nothing has changed and the company continues to treat employee safety as an afterthought, putting its workers at risk. No worker should be placed in a preventable, dangerous situation, let alone a child."

Mar-Jac — which is based out of Gainesville, Georgia, and has plants scattered throughout the Gulf region — has 15 business days to comply, contest OSHA's findings with the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, or request an informal conference with OSHA. Mar-Jac did not respond to the New York Post's requests for comment.

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Cortney Weil

Cortney Weil

Sr. Editor, News

Cortney Weil is a senior editor for Blaze News.
@cortneyweil →