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Removal of safety device may have caused worker's death

A Pennsylvania sugar plant reportedly removed an important safety device that may have prevented a worker's death. The incident occurred in Fairless Hills in February 2013. Workers were bagging sugar that morning, but problems with clumping resulted in the need to climb into the hopper to facilitate movement of the material. A worker was digging, and another employee reported that looking at that location, he noticed the worker missing and his shovel buried with only the handle showing. As it turned out, the missing worker had been buried in the sugar.

According to federal investigators, the safety device was removed less than two weeks prior to the incident. A manager reportedly took the action because of slowed production. The deceased man was a temporary worker, and a rash of workplace accidents involving such workers has resulted in intensified rule enforcement by OSHA. Both the companies hiring such workers and the agencies coordinating their employment have been fined due to failure to evaluate dangers that may face inexperienced individuals.

According to reports, temporary workers may face greater injury risks than permanent employees. These workplace injuries can include crushing, punctures, fractures, cuts and joint dislocations. The sugar plant in the Pennsylvania incident was almost exclusively operated by temp workers, including the manager of the warehouse. Complaints to upper management had reportedly been made with requests for a safety mechanism to prevent burial of workers in the sugar. However, the plant manager indicated to OSHA officials that he did not know the safety device was missing and was not aware of any problems. Employee statements conflicted with the manager's explanation.

A family dealing with the loss or severe injury of a breadwinner in connection with a workplace accident will likely face financial hardships. It may be beneficial to discuss such an incident with an attorney to determine whether workers' compensation benefits are available.

Source: philly.com, "Bucks sugar plant removed safety device 13 days before temp worker's death", MIchael Grabell, July 07, 2014

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