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Chicken processor denied review over OSHA citations

chicken plant

A chicken processor failed to convince a circuit court to overturn several workplace safety citations leveled against it by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

In Sanderson Farms Inc. vs. Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously rejected Laurel, Mississippi-based Sanderson Farms Inc.’s petition for review of the commission’s findings that the company violated several OSHA regulations at one of its plants. The court’s decision was published Thursday.

Sanderson uses more than 10,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia to freeze processed chickens at its plant in Waco, Texas. In 2017, an OSHA investigator found that the company failed to comply with its process safety management of highly hazardous chemicals, known as the PSM standard.

OSHA cited Sanderson for failing to “establish and implement written procedures to maintain the ongoing mechanical integrity of the process” with respect to safety cutouts, emergency stop testing procedures, and pressure vessel level control test procedures. It also said the company failed to “perform inspections and tests on process equipment,” including three compressor cutouts and two emergency stop buttons.

Sanderson contested the citations, but an administrative law judge affirmed them. The company appealed to the commission, which declined to overturn the administrative judge’s decision. It then filed a complaint seeking a review of the commission’s order.

Sanderson argued that the PSM standards do not apply to its equipment, that any violation of the standards didn’t create a hazard or expose workers to that hazard, and that it could not have reasonably known that it had any violative conditions.

The circuit court denied Sanderson’s petition for review. The court held that the PSM standards did apply to the company’s plant and that the failure of compressor cutouts, pressure vessel level controls or emergency stops could lead to the release of ammonia, and that a lack of written procedures and testing could lead to such failure.