Howard Thompson was a cold storage worker at Birdsong Peanuts in Blakely, GA last Sept. 28 when he was caught in a conveyor belt, injured critically, and died the same night.
Thompson, 23, was taken from the cold storage warehouse on Bay Street in Blakely by ground and air ambulance to hospitals in Dothan, AL and Birmingham, where he died.
In a statement after his death, Birdsong said Thompson “was a good worker and will be missed.”
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was already investigating Birdsong for safety violations before the Blakely death. After investigating the fatality, OSHA this week announced finding 41 safety and health violations at the Birdsong facilities in Sylvester and Blakely.
Blakely is the peanut industry-dominated town in southwest Georgia near the Alabama border where the now defunct Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) was located. PCA was responsible for the 2008-09 nationwide Salmonella outbreak that killed nine people and sickened hundreds of others.
“Our inspections, and a worker fatality at the Blakely plant, show the need for management to get serious about the safety and health of its employees,” said Robert Vazzi, OSHA’s area director in Savannah.
OSHA began an inspection of Birdsong’s Sylvester plant in June 2009. Compliance officers found 21 serious safety violations and one other-than-serious safety violation, including lack of machine guards, fall hazards, electrical hazards, a lack of emergency lighting, and unmarked exit doors.
In July 2009, a separate inspection was opened to address possible noise hazards at the plant, resulting in citations for three serious health violations and one other-than-serious health violation.
In September 2009, OSHA began a comprehensive inspection of the company’s Blakely, Ga., facility following the death of Howard Thompson.
That investigation led to the issuance of three serious safety violations and one other-than-serious safety violation, including lack of machine guarding and lack of guardrails.
During the course of the fatality investigation, the compliance officer grew concerned about possible combustible dust hazards at the plant. A separate combustible dust inspection was begun and resulted in the issuance of 11 serious violations.
The inspections resulted in proposed penalties of $137,250, $88,200 for the Sylvester plant and $49,050 for the Blakely plant.
Birdsong Corp. is headquartered in Suffolk, Va., and has facilities in Georgia, Texas and Virginia.
The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director or contest the citations and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
The sites were inspected by staff from OSHA’s Savannah Area Office, 450 Mall Blvd., Suite J; telephone 912-652-4393.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, OSHA’s role is to promote safe and healthful working conditions for America’s men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, outreach, and education.