Feds propose $2M fine against Cincinnati meat processor after severe injury

By: - April 11, 2023 4:55 am

Photographer: Adam Glanzman/Bloomberg. Photo from Getty Images.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has proposed a $1.9 million fine against the Cincinnati-based subsidiary of a meat-processing firm headquartered in the Netherlands. 

The proposed fines come after a severe accident in October, less than two weeks after OSHA warned officials at the Cincinnati plant that sanitation workers didn’t have the proper training, the U.S. Department of Labor announced last Thursday.

“While working the overnight sanitation shift at an Ohio food processing plant, a 29-year-old temporary worker — on the job just nine months — suffered critical injuries after falling into an industrial blender he was cleaning and became caught in the rotating paddle augers,” the agency said in a news release. “The worker’s injuries led to a leg amputation.”

The company that owns the plant, Zwanenberg Food Group USA, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. Among its products are cooked ham, chili, lunch meat, soups, stew, corned beef hash and pastas that are marketed under brands such Vietti, Southgate and Halal, the labor department said.

Meatpacking and processing facilities have been notorious for their danger since Upton Sinclair published his muckraking novel “The Jungle” in 1905. But to Sinclair’s disappointment, public outrage sparked by the book translated into new food-safety regulations, but not laws to protect workers.

“I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach,” Sinclair said, according to the Constitutional Rights Foundation.

Safety problems have persisted in plants loaded with dangerous equipment and employees under pressure to work quickly. In February, meatpacking workers told Minnesota lawmakers about “broken ankles, gruesome lacerations, pinched nerves and other injuries they and their coworkers have suffered on the job,” the Minnesota Reformer reported.

In the case of the Cincinnati meat processing facility, the accident on Oct. 12 followed a problematic history there, the labor department said. In 2017, OSHA placed Zwanenberg in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program, and it was subsequently cited for safety violations.

Many of the violations Zwanenberg is now being accused of have to do with “lockout/tagout” procedures: shutting off the power supply to dangerous machines so they can’t be accidentally started before reaching or stepping into them.

One of the citations said that the company sent sanitation workers into several areas where they were exposed to “spiked paddle augers, ribbon augers, and chopping blades, likely to result in serious impalement and laceration injuries.”

Another said that the company was still not making sure that proper lockout/tagout procedures were taking place prior to cleaning meat processing machines — even after it was cited for such violations in 2018.

If Zwanenberg had followed proper procedures, the man who was hurt at the Cincinnati plant would still have his leg, said OSHA Regional Administrator Bill Donovan.

“This young man suffered a preventable debilitating injury because his employer failed to train him and the majority of its third-shift sanitation workers adequately to lockout equipment to ensure their own safety,” Donovan said in a statement issued by the labor department. “This tragedy is compounded by the fact that OSHA cited Zwanenberg for similar violations two weeks prior, and they continued to ignore their responsibility to protect workers in their plant.”



Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Marty Schladen
Marty Schladen

Marty Schladen has been a reporter for decades, working in Indiana, Texas and other places before returning to his native Ohio to work at The Columbus Dispatch in 2017. He's won state and national journalism awards for investigations into utility regulation, public corruption, the environment, prescription drug spending and other matters.