Slaughterhouse responsible for death of migrant teen sucked into machinery, officials say

Federal officials say a Mississippi slaughterhouse is to blame for a 16-year-old worker’s death after he was sucked into a deboning machine and sustained fatal injuries.

The incident happend on 14 July 2023 in Hattiesburg and was the second work-related fatality at the Mar-Jac Poultry MS, LLC  plant in roughly two years, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said in a news release on Tuesday.

Based on US Department of Labour information, the teenager, identified as Duvan Pérez, was a contract worker employed by Onin Staffing, LLC, and was deep cleaning the deboning area when he was sucked into a machine he was sanitizing.

A manager on site did not initiate “lockout/tagout” protocol to disconnect power to the machine to prevent it from starting during the cleaning process. The company has been fined over $200,000 in penalties, an amount officials said was set by federal statute.

“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,” OSHA Regional Administrator Kury Petermeyer said. “The company’s inaction  has directly led to this terrible tragedy, which has left so many to mourn this child’s preventable death.”

The company has been cited with 14 serious and three other-than-serious violations after officials say the company failed to ensure safety standards were in place.

OSHA, an office under the Department of Labor, previously cited the company in 2021 after a worker’s shirt sleeve was caught in a machine, subsequently pulling them in. The employee died from their injuries.

“Following the fatal incident in May 2021 Mar-Jac Poultry should have enforced strict safety standards in its facility,” Mr Petermeyer continued.

“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.”

The Department of Labor has launched a child labour investigation against the company. In Mississippi, it’s against the law for minors to be employed in packing or processing meat and poultry and working with power-driven machinery, in addition to other dangerous occupations.

According to NBC News, the company did not comment on OSHA’s decision.

However, in another statement provided to the outlet by Mar-Jac Poultry attorney Larry Stine, the company said “Mar-Jac thoroughly investigated the accident and has not found any errors committed by its safety or human resources employees.

“It has learned many lessons from the accident and has taken aggressive steps to prevent the occurrence of another accident or hiring underage workers.”

After the teenager’s death, the company found that Duvan was hired under the identity of a 32-year-old man, the outlet reported. He was from a village in Guatemala called Tuimuca, per media reports in the country.

In the last fiscal year, the Department of Labor found 835 companies had employed more than 3,800 children. The number of children illegally employed has gradually risen since 2018.

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