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Group files ‘imminent danger’ complaint on behalf of Foundation Food Group workers
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Foundation Food Group resumed operations at the plant almost a month after the late January deadly nitrogen leak. - photo by Scott Rogers

An organization has filed a complaint on behalf of multiple Foundation Food Group workers with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, alleging an “imminent danger.”

Georgia Familias Unidas announced Friday, March 26, it had filed the complaint with OSHA citing the recent events at the Gainesville poultry processing plant.

Six people were killed and 12 total people were hospitalized following the Jan. 28 liquid nitrogen leak.

Hall County Fire Services was also called out March 11 regarding a “potential leak” due to a refrigerant service call that day, authorities said.

Foundation Food Group said at the time that a professional refrigeration company performed a review March 11 and found “no actionable levels of ammonia … and the plant was cleared of any potential risk to the company’s employees.”

OSHA spokesman Eric Lucero said the regulatory agency has received the complaint and will handle it in accordance with OSHA policy, directing The Times to a webpage concerning complaint processing.

Georgia Familias Unidas said it was requesting OSHA use its statutory authority to enforce “fundamental and federally required safety and health procedures and protocols be carried out” and provide documentation of their completion.

These procedures include providing for more than one unlocked emergency exit door with access to all workers, installing and/or correcting alarm systems regarding the release of chemicals and making certain action plans and training available in a language comprehensible for the workers.

“We are not advocating for the facility to shut down to take these measures,” according to a statement from Georgia Familias Unidas. “We know that these workers depend on the income they receive for their hard work, often working up to 45 hours a week.”

The company referenced its Feb. 11 fire inspection, where the Hall County fire marshal’s office said it passed all requirements. This was after a Feb. 1 inspection that found exit doors blocked by machinery and products as well as emergency lights needing repair.

“The safety of (Foundation Food Group’s) associates remains a top priority, which includes maintaining safety programs and protocols and training associates in their native languages,” the company said in a statement. “(Foundation Food Group) has and continues to provide necessary (personal protective equipment) to associates at no cost. As always, Foundation Food Group takes workplace safety very seriously. We are committed to taking any additional measures necessary to further ensure the safety of our employees.”

According to the OSHA policy, the area director or designee “will evaluate all available information to determine whether there are reasonable grounds to believe that a violation or hazard exists.”

If the area director determines that there are no “reasonable grounds” to support the existence of a hazard or violation, then there will not be an inspection or inquiry.

According to OSHA, the conditions for an imminent danger include a threat of death or serious physical harm that could occur within a short time.

“If an OSHA inspector believes that an imminent danger exists, the inspector must inform affected employees and the employer that he is recommending that OSHA take steps to stop the imminent danger,” according to OSHA. “OSHA has the right to ask a federal court to order the employer to eliminate the imminent danger.

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