A Pasco, Wash., vegetable processor has been fined $92,400 for five safety violations, including one that led to a worker losing part of a finger, the state Department of Labor and Industries announced Wednesday.
Freeze Pack, a division of Oregon Potato Co., has appealed the fines to the Division of Occupational Safety and Health within the department. The company denies every violation. It also argues L&I should not have labeled it a “severe violator,” an official designation that means more workplace inspections.
“Freeze Pack has been and continues to be committed to providing a safe and healthy workplace for all employees,” company President Frank Tiegs said in an email.
L&I began an investigation after a worker suffered a fractured wrist and partially amputated finger on May 19.
The worker’s hand was pulled into conveyor belt rollers as he blew away onion debris with an air hose.
As the man worked under the belt, the hose was pulled into the rollers, taking his hand with it, according to L&I. The agency alleges the company didn’t follow safety procedures to ensure the belt wouldn’t move.
In its appeal, the company says that the rollers must be turning to be cleared of onion debris. Workers are trained to stand more than 3 feet from the belt while using the air hose, the company stated.
The company says the worker, a shift supervisor not trained to clear conveyor belts, got too close. The nozzle got caught in the rollers. Instead of letting go, the worker tried to yank out the hose, according to the company.
L&I issued a $52,800 fine for the incident. L&I says it has cited the company four times in the past three years for similar violations. Three times have involved an amputated finger, according to L&I.
The company also was fined $26,400 for two cases of allegedly not adequately safeguarding moving parts on conveyors. The violations were serious repeat offenses, according to L&I. The company was cited for the same two violations in 2014, the agency stated.
The company argues the exposed parts are not in areas frequented by workers and did not put workers at risk of serious injury or death.
L&I also levied a $6,600 penalty, alleging the company endangered employees by issuing unsuitable tools. An L&I inspector reported seeing workers equipped with paddles to open and close inoperable gates on conveyor belts. The paddles were too short, so workers walked on conveyor belts, risking falls, to open and close the gates, according to an L&I report.
The company says workers used the paddles to break loose backed-up onions on conveyor belts. The paddles were used to open and close gates temporarily until the automatic gates were fixed, according to the company.
L&I issued another $6,600 fine, alleging the company didn’t have a written plan to control the power supply to equipment. The company says that it did have a plan.