A Mississippi poultry plant’s disregard of safety policies was directly to blame for the death of a 16-year-old boy who was fatally injured in July after being pulled into a machine there, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration said on Monday.
Mar-Jac Poultry, which operates the Mississippi plant, was cited with 17 violations after investigators found that the plant’s failure to follow safety protocols had led to the teenager’s fatal injuries, OSHA said in a statement on Tuesday, noting that it had proposed to fine the poultry company more than $200,000.
The 16-year-old was cleaning a machine in the deboning area of the Mar-Jac Poultry plant in Hattiesburg, Miss., on July 14 last year, when he was caught in the machine’s rotating shaft and pulled into it, OSHA said.
Although OSHA did not release the name of the victim, the teenager was previously identified by the Immigrant Alliance for Justice and Equity, a nonprofit organization that supports migrants in Mississippi, as Duvan Tomas Pérez, who immigrated to the United States from Guatemala about six to seven years ago.
OSHA said that federal investigators found that, even though there was a supervisor in the area before and during the fatal episode, power to the machine had not been disconnected, and that the plant had not used a device that prevents the machine from accidentally turning on during cleaning.
Minors cannot clean meat-processing machines, like the one in which the teenager was killed, because the job has been deemed too dangerous by federal regulators, according to the Department of Labor.
Kurt Petermeyer, an OSHA administrator based in Atlanta, said in a statement on Tuesday that “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.”
“The company’s inaction has directly led to this terrible tragedy, which has left so many to mourn this child’s preventable death,” Mr. Petermeyer said.
Mar-Jac Poultry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday. The company has 15 business days to comply with the citations and proposed fines, request to meet with OSHA officials or contest the findings of the investigation.
OSHA said that the 16-year-old was contracted to work at the facility by Onin Staffing, an Alabama-based company that did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
The citations came amid a continuing child labor investigation by the Department of Labor into Mar-Jac Poultry and follow an episode at one of the same plants in 2021, when a worker died after their shirtsleeve was caught and pulled into a machine, according to OSHA.
“Only about two years later, nothing has changed and the company continues to treat employee safety as an afterthought, putting its workers at risk,” Mr. Petermeyer said. “No worker should be placed in a preventable, dangerous situation, let alone a child.”
Mar-Jac Poultry, which is based in Gainesville, Ga., has plants in Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. The company raises live birds to produce chicken that is sold across the country.