- February 9, 2024
- Attorney Matt Stoddard
- Premises Liability
There’s no doubt that the meatpacking industry — and indeed all manufacturing industries — could be doing more to ensure worker safety. However, this responsibility does not rest on the shoulders of packing plant owners alone.
After all, industrial facilities don’t create their equipment from scratch. Most pieces of industrial equipment are off-the-shelf units, which are mass produced, assembled, and installed by third-party companies. Management at a specific facility might not even know anything about how the machines work beyond the information provided in the instructions.
As such, a great deal of the responsibility lies with the designers of the machines.
A well-engineered piece of industrial machinery is easier to use safely than dangerously. It has thorough safety features that anticipate normal usage and are difficult to defeat.
Ideally, any part of the machine where a body part could be crushed, cut, or snagged should have physical guards to prevent this from happening. Areas where hazardous parts must be exposed should be clearly marked with warning labels. Cleaning or servicing the machine should require putting it in a mode that makes it impossible for it to activate.
When an industrial accident happens, the machine’s manufacturer should receive just as much scrutiny as the facility where it was in use.
At Least Two Recent Fatalities at Mar-Jac Poultry Involved Workers Caught in Machines
Mar-Jac Poultry Processing has had an alarming string of worker deaths over the last few years, starting with an incident in mid-December of 2020, at a Mississippi processing plant. An employee was rushed to the hospital with trauma to his abdomen and pelvis, reportedly inflicted by a compressed air device. He underwent surgery but did not survive.
The company blamed the accident on “horse play.”
That tragedy alone would be cause enough for concern about the conditions and company culture at Mar-Jac facilities. In any potentially hazardous workplace, the employer is responsible for establishing, teaching, and enforcing safe standards of behavior. This assumes, of course, that the horse play explanation is accurate.
The next two incidents, however, resulted in the deaths of employees who were, by all accounts, simply doing their jobs.
In May of 2021, an employee was dragged into a machine by a snagged shirt sleeve, and in July of 2023, a 16-year-old boy was cleaning the deboning area when a machine activated, entangling and killing him. OSHA would later determine that the plant had not used the correct lockout procedures to prevent unexpected startups during cleaning.
Both of these most recent fatal accidents occurred at the Gainesville processing plant here in Georgia.
Along with a recommended OSHA fine of over $200,000, Mar-Jac is now facing a child labor investigation.
While Mar-Jac certainly seems to have plenty to answer for, it’s also important to question whether these machines were modified from their original form. And, if not, was there more the manufacturer could have done to guard against these exact kinds of accidents?
Families Affected by Industrial Accidents Can Sue Negligent Equipment Suppliers
In theory, employers are responsible for maintaining safe workplaces, but in practice, they’re actually immune to almost all civil lawsuits pertaining to worker injuries.
Generally, all an employer has to do to take advantage of this immunity is approve the employee’s worker’s comp claim. This helps motivate employers to cooperate, so that workers can get a payout quickly to cover their immediate expenses. The problem is that a worker’s comp payout will typically be much smaller than what a court would award for the same damages under the same circumstances.
Employer immunity only applies to the victim’s employer, however. If another entity, such as an equipment supplier, contributed to the accident, the victim or family can sue that entity for the full value of the damages. This option remains open regardless of any worker’s comp payment.
If you are the parent of the boy who died at the Gainesville Mar-Jac plant last year, or if you have also been affected by an industrial accident in Georgia, reach out to the Stoddard Firm to discuss the possible role an equipment supplier may have played in your case. We’ll talk you through your options for collecting the fullest possible compensation.