090117 Tyson Foods Pleads Guilty to OSHA Violation

January 12, 2009

Springdale, AR -- Tyson Foods Inc. entered a guilty plea with the U.S. Department of Justice, agreeing to a $500,000 fine and one year of probation.

The meat giant pleaded guilty to willfully violating safety regulations that led to the death of worker Jason Kelley in its River Valley Animal Foods plant in Texarkana in 2003, according to a government release.

The violation is the most serious offense under Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations, the government said.

Tyson Foods was assessed the maximum criminal fine of $500,000 by the Justice Department in addition to $436,000 by OSHA in 2004 over the same incident.

The company said it is in talks about a possible settlement of the OSHA levy.

"This was a tragic accident and we remain saddened by the loss of Jason Kelley. We want people to know we have implemented measures to help prevent an accident like this from happening again. Our efforts have included changes in the production process, new ventilation and engineering controls, the use of monitoring and alarm systems, and expanded worker training," said Tyson Foods' spokesman Gary Mickelson.

River Valley Animal Foods is a rendering operation, which converts poultry byproducts into ingredients used in the livestock feed and pet food industries. The Texarkana operation employs approximately 100 people, Mickelson said.

Kelley was killed when he was exposed to hydrogen sulfide gas while repairing equipment. Another plant worker and two emergency responders were hospitalized after they tried to help Kelley, and another two workers were treated at the scene, the release said.

The rendering process includes high-pressure steam processors, called hydrolyzers, that are used to create feather meal from poultry feathers. Toxic hydrogen sulfide gas is a byproduct of feather decomposition, according to the release.

The prosecution claims that the hydrolyzers needed frequent maintenance and that workers were exposed to toxic gas in the work place. The prosecutors said Tyson Foods' safety personnel and management were aware at the time that the gas was present and did not take enough steps to reduce exposure within prescribed limits.

In July 2007, Tyson Foods was also cited by OSHA for violations in its Noel, Mo. processing plant. The U.S. Department of Labor Web site listed a citation against Tyson Foods for "serious, willful, repeat and other-than-serious violations of safety and health standards." The agency proposed penalties totaling $339,500 for those violations.