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Forum Post: Sugar Plant Removed Safety Device Thirteen Days Before Temp Worker's Death

Posted 3 months ago on July 9, 2014, 8:49 p.m. EST by LeoYo (5850)
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Sugar Plant Removed Safety Device Thirteen Days Before Temp Worker's Death

Wednesday, 09 July 2014 09:42
By Michael Grabell, ProPublica | Report

http://truth-out.org/news/item/24856-sugar-plant-removed-safety-device-thirteen-days-before-temp-workers-death

Inside the sugar plant in Fairless Hills, Pa., nobody could find Janio Salinas, a 50-year-old temp worker from just over the New Jersey border.

Throughout the morning, Salinas and a handful of other workers had been bagging mounds of sugar for a company that supplies the makers of Snapple drinks and Ben & Jerry's ice cream. But sugar clumps kept clogging the massive hopper, forcing the workers to climb inside with shovels to help the granules flow out the funnel-like hole at the bottom.

Coming back from lunch that day in February 2013, one employee said he had seen Salinas digging in the sugar. But when he looked back, Salinas was gone. All that remained was a shovel buried up to its handle. Then, peering through a small gap in the bottom of the hopper, someone noticed what appeared to be blue jeans.

It was Salinas. He had been buried alive in sugar.

As harrowing as the accident was, federal safety investigators recently discovered something perhaps even more disturbing: A safety device that would have prevented Salinas' death had been removed just 13 days before the accident because a manager believed it was slowing down production.

After a series of gruesome accidents involving untrained temp workers, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has stepped up its enforcement of rules affecting temp workers. In recent cases, OSHA has held companies and temp agencies jointly responsible for training, and it has fined temp agencies for not assessing potential dangers before sending people to a workplace.

But the federal report on the accident that killed Salinas reveals how deeply rooted the problems are—and how difficult a challenge OSHA faces in changing the way temp workers are treated.

The Salinas case is featured in a new investigative report by Univision, airing tonight on its news magazine show, Aquí y Ahora. The report also features undercover video from the growing blue-collar temp world. Earlier this year, the Spanish-language TV network sent two producers to work for temp agencies in an immigrant neighborhood in New Brunswick, N.J. From there, the agencies provide workers to local warehouses to unload goods coming in from overseas.

Univision quickly learned that the agencies weren't following employment rules. At five of the seven agencies they visited, the employment forms the producers received were in English, even though they spoke Spanish and the overwhelming majority of workers who use the agencies don't speak English. One producer was asked to sign a safety quiz that had already been filled out. When they got to the warehouses, both men were sent to work without any training.

The temporary staffing business has been one of the fastest growing industries since the end of the 2007-09 recession. It now employs a record 2.9 million people in the United States. But the growth in blue-collar staffing has led to high injury rates and complaints about exploitation.

Last year, ProPublica found that temps face a significantly greater risk of getting injured on the job than permanent employees. In Florida, for example, temps were about twice as likely as regular workers to suffer crushing injuries, dislocations, lacerations, fractures and punctures. In Florida and the three other states for which records were available, temps were about three times as likely to suffer amputations.

At the time of the sugar plant accident, every employee at the Pennsylvania warehouse, which is run by CSC Sugar, was a temp worker. Even the warehouse manager, who ran the operation, was a temp although he was promoted and given raises by CSC managers and had authority to purchase materials and hire contractors on behalf of the company. Workers told OSHA that the only contact they had with their temp agency was when they had a payroll problem.

The warehouse manager told OSHA that he had complained repeatedly to upper management about the dangers of becoming engulfed while unclogging the sugar hopper. He said he had asked the plant manager for a safety device to prevent clogging, but the plant manager said "we can't do that" because of financial constraints.

Eventually, the company decided to install a screen over the hopper to prevent clogging. But 13 days before the accident, according to OSHA, the plant manager ordered it removed because it was slowing down production.

Around the same time, the plant had a near miss when a worker started to slide into sugar while unclogging the hopper. That worker was able to get to the side in time, the report said. Despite that scare, the screen was never put back on.

The plant manager leading up to the accident told OSHA he was unaware of the problems and didn't know the screen had been removed. "However, statements by employees indicated he had directed its removal," OSHA investigators wrote in their report.

CSC Sugar had been fined by OSHA in 2010 for failing to train temp workers at another plant. CSC said at the time that it depended on the temp agencies to train them. Despite the warnings from OSHA, several temp workers at the Fairless Hills plant said they too had never been trained by CSC.

Andy Reul, the company's chief financial officer, declined to comment, citing potential litigation.

Salinas, who had been an airplane mechanic in Peru before coming to the United States in 1990, died of asphyxiation. He left behind a wife and a large family in New Jersey and Peru.

"Janio's wife has had a difficult time," Salinas' brother John told Univision.

"It is not easy for the poor woman," added Salinas' sister-in-law, Elienda Barbarán. "Replaying the moment is difficult. But we have so many questions: What happened? Why didn't the company consider safety? Why wasn't there someone who checked that the company was functioning well?"

OSHA fined CSC $25,855 following the accident. But after the plant installed a safety guard and started using a new procedure to break up sugar clumps, the agency reduced the fine to $18,098.

Salinas' family told Univision they believe OSHA should have done more.

But, Jean Kulp, director of OSHA's Allentown, Pa., office, told Univision that her agency doesn't have the ability to shut down businesses and has limited criminal enforcement provisions.

In CSC's case, even though it removed a safety device and had received previous warnings to train its temp workers, OSHA didn't find the company "willfully in violation," which would have triggered bigger fines, she said. Kulp said the violations that were found didn't show "total disregard" for OSHA standards.

Congressional efforts to provide more protections for workers have repeatedly stalled. The Protecting America's Workers Act, which would raise fines and criminal penalties for OSHA violations, has been proposed in every Congress since 2004 but has received little attention since a House subcommittee hearing in 2010.

This story was done in collaboration with Univision.

Read ProPublica's Temp Land series to learn more about the temp workers who power corporate giants.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

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20 Comments


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[-] 1 points by DKAtoday (26700) from Coon Rapids, MN 3 months ago

In related News ( no it was not awesome - but it is very much a step in the right direction ) :

Hi there—

I loved MoveOn's live call last night with progressive champion Senator Bernie Sanders. Thank you for being one of more than 5,000 MoveOn members and allies who RSVP'd and are fired up to tackle America's giant Koch problem!

Sen. Sanders was so inspiring as he called on us to believe that we can challenge the Koch brothers and prevail—in November and beyond.

In case you missed the call, click here to access the recording.

And then please share this call with your friends and family, as a key follow-up action.

Also, please call your senators right now at 866-937-7983 to let them know that you're thrilled that the Senate Judiciary Committee just approved a resolution to effectively overturn the Supreme Court's rulings in Citizens United and McCutcheon—and that you look forward to a full Senate vote later this year!

In addition to Sen. Sanders, we had wonderful questions last night. Thanks to Angela A. from Chicago who asked about overturning Citizens United and Elisa O. from Louisville, KY, who challenged us to consider money in politics a bipartisan issue. Jean C. in Gaston, NC, urged us to hold the Senate in November, and folks on Twitter reminded us about the importance of voting and the critical work of engaging young people.

This morning I had a terrific message from fellow MoveOn member Larry P. in Madison, WI. Larry told us that he works for a Koch-free nation for his kids—and because he believes that educating and mobilizing the American public about the Koch brothers is the most essential work we can do to take back our democracy.

Be sure to visit MoveOn's Facebook page for great Koch graphics. You can also follow MoveOn on Twitter and use #KochProblem to join the conversation that's continuing today. And, if you're fired up to take on the Koch brothers, MoveOn's Koch Problem website is the place to go for critical campaign resources.

Sen. Sanders reminded us of this last night: The vast majority of Americans stand opposed to the Koch brothers' efforts to shape our nation in the best interests of the elite, ultraconservative few. I know that our people power is stronger than all the money they can throw at us.

Again, here's a link to listen to a recording of last night. Please share it with friends.

It's good to be with you in this fight.

Thanks for all you do.

–Anna

[-] -1 points by shoozTroll (17632) 3 months ago

Easily done as there was no union.

[-] 0 points by DKAtoday (26700) from Coon Rapids, MN 3 months ago

Yes - and even if there had been a union - even the union would have been hard pressed to affect the needed saftey requirements - as - in right to work ( law ) states the unions have been largely undermined by state law. This country is being reverted to the dark ages by power hungry and greedy individuals - the very few - the very small minority - the insane.

[-] -2 points by shoozTroll (17632) 3 months ago

They are being undermined, everywhere libe(R)tarians have gained a foothold.

Unions, after all, can affect profits and payouts to "investors".

[-] 1 points by MattHolck0 (1712) 3 months ago

call investors enablers

[-] 0 points by DKAtoday (26700) from Coon Rapids, MN 3 months ago

Worse - chumps - victims - the small investor anyway.

[-] -2 points by shoozTroll (17632) 3 months ago

Wallstreet by and large are the "investors".

[-] 0 points by DKAtoday (26700) from Coon Rapids, MN 3 months ago

Gamblers in a fixed game and so really - predators - not so much investors ( the little guy may still be considered an investor ).

[-] -2 points by shoozTroll (17632) 3 months ago

That "little guy" is just canon fodder for the next engineered "crash".

It's worked that way, in every crash in my life time.

[-] 0 points by DKAtoday (26700) from Coon Rapids, MN 3 months ago

[ edit ] Yep - the only way the little guy ever actually gets to invest - is - if they can go to the source - the business - that they are interested in - and work out a deal with the owner ( to help finance expansion and get paid a reasonable return on a loan/investment ) or prospective owner if it is a 1st time bid to go into operation ( initial birth of a business ) and work out a deal on a return for helping the start-up.

edit-> Now a days all the owner of a business that wants to expand or the prospective owner of a start-up can expect ( also any small time investor ) from getting mixed up in the BIG TIMES - IS - how do they put it? - AHhhhh yeah - is to get their face ripped off.

[-] 0 points by DKAtoday (26700) from Coon Rapids, MN 3 months ago

The Koch's and the Walton's and all such like ilk - trying to drag us all back into the dark ages.

[-] 2 points by turbocharger (1391) 3 months ago

Has anything really ever changed? I mean, we -meaning people at this specific moment in time- tend to look at the 50s and 60s as this great time, but when looking at poverty charts its actually some of the worst.

Older people have horrible stories about being broke during that time, my grandparents included all the kids working to help take of the family, etc.

Do we tend to always feel as if things are getting worse?

[-] 0 points by DKAtoday (26700) from Coon Rapids, MN 3 months ago

While many social programs were lacking - many more people who were working full time jobs were able to afford a home a car higher education/schooling for their kids they were able to take a real vacation at least once a year where they might travel the states in a camper or go overseas to visit the old country. These people were single worker families and quite a few of em blue collar workers and not white collar - not management - just the average full time WORKER. Yes some things have gotten better over time - until now that is - where now ALL workers progress is under severe attack - all of it - even unto child labor - and if you are a blue collar worker - you find most of the good paying jobs have been outsourced to slave labor countries.

Do we tend to always feel as if things are getting worse?

No it is not imagination - things are very DEFINITELY getting worse - all across the board.

[-] -1 points by shoozTroll (17632) 3 months ago

Yup.

Lots of things.

https://occupywallst.org/forum/why-michigan-matters/

You should see Florida.

[-] -2 points by shoozTroll (17632) 3 months ago

All for the sake of freedom and liberty.

Theirs.

[-] 0 points by DKAtoday (26700) from Coon Rapids, MN 3 months ago

Sick isn't it !!!

So few abusing so many and being supported not only by government but also by many ( masses ) of the abused.

INSANITY.

[-] 0 points by DKAtoday (26700) from Coon Rapids, MN 3 months ago

Yep - it's "the only" freedom and liberty that matters - umm - damn - there goes that propaganda brainwashing response again - I think I'm gonna be sick - I just had a flash of Mittens taking the oath with his chair bearers on their knees.............and the audience on their knees as well with their heads placed in holes in the ground..............

[-] 0 points by freakzilla (-161) from Detroit, MI 3 months ago

Similar thing happened over at Wonka's place. Poor Oompa Loompas got union busted, then five of 'em were found face first in that chocolate river the fat German kid fell into. Heck of a shame.

[-] -2 points by shoozTroll (17632) 3 months ago

Asshole.

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