New Jersey company implicated in deaths of six workers at a Georgia poultry facility

On January 28, 2021, six employees went to work at a Gainesville poultry processing facility and never returned home.

Messer LLC, headquartered in Bridgewater, NJ, has 3,700 total employees across all of its locations and generates $1.28 billion in sales. There are 551 companies in the Messer LLC corporate family.

Messer is facing $74,118 in penalties for federal charges related to six serious violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 that led the six deaths in Gainesville, a community in Hall County, Georgia.

Only a little bit after those Gainesville poultry packers began their shifts on that fateful night, a freezer released colorless, odorless liquid nitrogen into the air, displacing the oxygen in the room.

Three of the plant’s maintenance workers, who were never trained to deal with this situation, entered the freezer room without precaution were affected immediately.

Other workers entered the room and were also overcome. The three maintenance workers and two other workers died immediately, the sixth died on the way to the hospital. At least a dozen other workers were injured and needed to immediately be taken to the hospital.

The woman and five men were identified Friday, Jan. 29, as: Saulo Suarez-Bernal, 41, of Dawsonville; Corey Alan Murphy, 35, of Clermont; plus Jose DeJesus Elias-Cabrera, 45; Nelly Perez-Rafael, 28; Victor Vellez, 38; and Edgar Vera-Garcia, 28, all of Gainesville.

“Six people’s deaths, and injuries suffered by at least a dozen others, were entirely avoidable,” said U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh. “The Department of Labor is dedicated to upholding the law and using everything in our power to get justice for the workers’ families. The bottom line is no one should leave for work wondering if they’ll return home at the end of the day, and the Department of Labor is committed to holding bad actors accountable.”

OSHA investigated the incident and found that Foundation Food Group Inc. and Messer LLC of Bridgewater, New Jersey, failed to implement any of the safety procedures necessary to prevent the nitrogen leak, as well as train their employees correctly, provide the proper PPE and have the knowledge to deal with these types of situations.

According to a press release, OSHA cited Foundation Food Group, Messer LLC, Packers Sanitation Services Inc. Ltd. of Kieler, Wisconsin and FS Group Inc. of Albertville, Alabama – all responsible for operations at the Gainesville facility – for a total of 59 violations and proposed $998,637 in penalties.

OSHA cited Foundation Food Group Inc. for 26 violations, including six willful violations. Messer LLC was cited for six serious violations. The agency cited Packers Sanitation Services Inc. Ltd. for 17 serious and two repeat violations. OSHA cited FS Group Inc. for eight serious violations, as well.

“This horrible tragedy could have been prevented had the employers taken the time to use – and teach their workers the importance of – safety precautions,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Kurt Petermeyer in Atlanta. “Instead, six workers died as a result of their employers’ failure to follow necessary procedures and to comply with required safety and health standards. We hope other industry employers learn from this terrible incident and comply with safety and health requirements to prevent similar incidents.”

The companies have 15 business days from receipt of their citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director or contest the findings before the independent OSHRC. For more details about the citations for each company click here.

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