Safety First: Disaster Prevention in Food Processing Facilities (Part III)

Mnet 114692 Casefile Lead

This article first appeared in March 2013's "iPurchase: Safety First"

We explore some of the food industry’s recent safety breeches, from industrial accidents to large-scale recalls, to find out what happened in the aftermath of these incidents and what can be done to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.

Case File: VPP Group, LLC
Norwalk, Wis.
OSHA Citation Date: June 7, 2012
OSHA Fine: $186,000.00

On December 9, 2011 Edgar Rodriguez Becerra was killed by electrocution in an industrial accident at VPP Group’s western Wisconsin beef processing facility. OSHA’s investigation into the conditions that led to Mr. Becerra’s death was concluded the following June when a Citation and Notice of Penalty was issued to the company.

Among VPP Group’s reported violations, OSHA alleges to have found ten willful or serious violations including a leaky water pipe located very near equipment that was not weatherproofed or rated for wet environments. This factor was determined to be the direct cause of death. Other OSHA citations filed with the report include:

  • placing electrical fixtures, boxes, and fittings in locations where water could enter and accumulate.
  • failing to properly adjust a grinder’s work rest to protect employees from flying debris.
  • failing to require the use of fall protection equipment.

This case appears to be particularly grievous because of the wide variety of washdown and waterproof equipment available on the market. Safety managers in food facilities — especially those involved in messy production applications like beef processing — should have a passing understanding of harsh environment challenges presented when working with wet product. A piece of equipment rated to handle washdown would have been able to stand up to a nearby leaky pipe.

Compounding this tragedy is that OSHA had previously cited the company after a worker was electrocuted there in 2009. Due to the willful nature of the company’s most recent violations, OSHA has placed VPP Group in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which, the administration says, “mandates targeted follow-up inspections to ensure compliance with the law.”

“VPP Group has a legal and moral responsibility to maintain a safe environment for its workers,” said Kim Stille, OSHA’s area director in Madison, Wis., in a press release published by the administration. “Placing electrical devices in dangerous locations and failing to provide fall protection shows zero commitment to worker safety and health.”

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