North Carolina Mountaire Farms Plant Had Safety Violation History

June 24, 2009

Workplace safety inspectors found 15 violations, nine of them serious, earlier this year at a North Carolina poultry plant where one worker died last weekend in an ammonia leak, according to inspection reports and officials.

The Mountaire Farms plant in Lumber Bridge was fined a total of $19,600 for violations cited in April, said state Labor Department spokeswoman Dolores Quesenberry. Those violations included sanitation issues and noise control, and the agency cited nine serious matters and six other violations.

A maintenance employee died after an ammonia leak occurred Saturday when a refrigeration line ruptured. Quesenberry said inspectors are at the plant trying to determine what happened.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board is not investigating the incident. Daniel Horowitz, an agency spokesman, said the board doesn’t have enough resources to commit to the matter.

“It’s a serious accident, no question about it,” Horowitz said. “If we had more resources available, we would perhaps be looking into it further.”

The agency has about a dozen field investigators and a similar number of open investigations. There’s a team of six agency workers in Garner this week investigating an explosion at the Slim Jim plant there that killed three. Horowitz said the agency typically focuses its work on accidents that have multiple fatalities, large-scale property damage or impacts the larger community.

“We have to be quite selective on what accidents to investigate,” he said.

Mountaire Farms of Millsboro, Del., said it would hold an internal employee meeting Monday to answer questions about the incident in which Clifton Swain, 47, of Fayetteville, died. Swain was a retiree from the Air Force and had worked at the plant since 2001, The Fayetteville Observer reported.

Four workers were injured, but their names and injuries were not released. Two of them were sent to the burn center at UNC Hospitals.

Safety officials fined the company $2,900 in 2004 after an inspection.

Mountaire said in a statement released Sunday that the company is concerned about safety.

“We have been working closely with OSHA to respond to the issues noted in the 2009 report,” the company said. “Our policy is to cooperate with regulators and work in conjunction with them to provide the safest workplace possible for our employees.’

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