State report finds violations at Pilgrim’s Pride

Report ends six month state investigation

by Brian Carlton

The Marshville facility of Pilgrim’s Pride faces 34 alleged violations, after state officials completed a six month investigation. The report from the North Carolina Department of Labor found 27 serious violations and seven labeled as non-serious, for which the company was fined $107,100.

In August, employees and residents who live near the facility, 5901 Highway 74 East, were evacuated after an ammonia leak. Workers didn’t return for two weeks.

Among the alleged violations, investigators found that 32 pieces of equipment had not been tested or inspected since November 2009.

“The frequency of inspections and tests of process equipment to maintain its mechanical integrity, was not consistent with applicable manufacturers’ recommendations and good engineering practices, or more frequently determined to be necessary by prior operating experience,” the report reads.

Additionally, the investigation found that Pilgrim’s Pride failed to offer Hepatitis B vaccines to workers exposed to blood or other infectious materials. Those included third shift refrigeration technicians, production superintendents, office and other production employees assigned to the Medical Emergency Response Team.

The investigation also found there were no guardrails or any protection for workers on the roof, monitoring the ammonia refrigeration system. No rails were included at the 25 inch wide opening of the feather and offal chutes, exposing employees to the risk of a seven foot fall. In case of an emergency, the exit routes behind the maintenance area was blocked by a series of wooden pallets and plastic totes, either currently containing or that had contained dry ice.

Employees exposed to large amounts of a concentrated bleach and water solution also didn’t have access to respirators. The solution was applied to equipment and work surfaces using spray bottles. Two of those employees suffered a severe reaction and had to seek medical attention.

Officials with Pilgrim’s Pride said the company was working to address all questions and issues brought up by the investigation.

“Since last August, Pilgrim’s has worked closely with the North Carolina Occupational Safety and Health Administration in their efforts to finalize their investigation into an ammonia leak,” said communications official Margaret McDonald. “Pilgrim’s received NCOSHA’s findings, and Pilgrim’s will provide an appropriate response to the findings once the company has had the opportunity to review the information.”

McDonald pointed out that no injuries occurred during the August incident. In addition, McDonald pointed to the lack of any serious safety incidents at the facility.

“Safety is a core value at Pilgrims,” Ted Lankford, complex manager at the Marshville facility, said in a prepared statement. “In everything we do, we are strongly committed to ensuring the safety of our employees and the communities in which we live and work.”

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