Cal/OSHA Fines Salinas Vegetable Packer For Major Safety Violations
October 29, 2012
Ninety-nine workers at a Salinas salad packing plant reported symptoms like shortness of breath and burning throats, eyes and noses in the course of three weeks in May, and there were multiple evacuations over that period.
An inspection by the Division of Occupational Safety and Health revealed New Star's new chlorination system for disinfecting packaged salads was leaking chlorine gas into New Star Fresh Foods' Work Street plant.
For their failure to act promptly, New Star was fined $11,250 by Cal/OSHA, according to a penalty assessment released on Monday. It's one line item in a proposed penalty that totals nearly $35,000.
The leaky chlorine gas problem was repaired almost immediately, but Cal/OSHA is imposing the steepest fines for New Star's failure to react to worker complaints earlier.
"It wasn’t until Cal/OSHA actually showed up at their doorstep that the company actually put in the time and energy [for repairs]," says Michael Marsh, an attorney at California Rural Legal Assistance who filed the complaint with Cal/OSHA on behalf of four New Star workers who complained.
New Star was also fined $560 for storing 55-gallon drums of chemicals side by side, which according to the Cal/OSHA can react dangerously.
New Star was also cited for failure to have properly installed eyewash stations, accessible fire extinguishers, dry floors to avoid slipping hazards, adequate eye protection, among other violations.
Chlorine is used as a disinfectant. According to Marsh, New Star was transitioning from a liquid system to a gas system; New Star representatives could not be reached after business hours Monday for comment.
Marsh says one of his clients told him, "At a couple of points the mixture was so strong it washed the green off the spinach."
New Star has the opportunity to appeal Cal/OSHA's proposed fines; Marsh plans to intervene on behalf of his clients. Their medical needs are covered by workers comp, making a civil lawsuit unlikely, though Marsh says they could consider suing the manufacturer for for product liability.