Thursday, September 21, 2023

Where OSHA is after poultry plant Foundation Food nitrogen leak

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Who it’s looking to hear from

By Nick Watson

The Times

GAINESVILLE, GA. — The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said it is still working on its investigation into the Jan. 28 liquid nitrogen leak at Foundation Food Group that killed six people, adding it would like to hear from employees.

Six people were killed and a total 12 people were hospitalized after the leak at the Gainesville, Ga., poultry processing plant on Memorial Park Drive.

OSHA said it was also investigating reports of a March 11 ammonia release. Hall County Fire Services evaluated the scene later that day and “found no hazards, including ammonia to be present.” Foundation Food Group previously told The Times that “no actionable levels of ammonia” were found after a review by a professional refrigeration company.

“OSHA is working methodically to complete its investigation and we want to hear from Foundation Food Group … employees to ensure safe operations for all who work there,” said Acting Area Director Condell Eastmond in the Atlanta-East office in a news release.

The agency said employees may contact OSHA confidentially at 770-493-7725 “if they have facts that might assist the agency as it gathers information related to both incidents.”

OSHA said it is illegal for employers to retaliate against employees “for exercising their safety and health rights.”

Georgia Familias Unidas filed an imminent danger complaint with OSHA in late March on behalf of multiple employees.

OSHA spokesman Eric Lucero said the investigation on the complaint remained open Wednesday, April 7, and declined to provide any further information.

After the imminent danger complaint was filed, Foundation Group told The Times in a statement that safety for the company’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.

“As always, Foundation Food Group takes workplace safety very seriously,” the company said in a statement. “We are committed to taking any additional measures necessary to further ensure the safety of our employees.”

Georgia Familias Unidas said they had distributed roughly $80,000 to families and workers since the nitrogen leak.

Vanesa Sarazua, executive director of Hispanic Alliance-GA, said they gave an additional $583 for each of the five families who lost someone in the nitrogen leak, bringing the total of $5,583 per family.

She said they have also been helping some that have ongoing medical issues and were struggling to pay rent.

“We’ve helped with mental health support for these families,” Sarazua said. “They are still grieving the loss of a loved one.”

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