News Release 98-334
Wednesday, August 5, 1998
Contact: Bill Wright (202) 219-8151
James Borders (904) 232-2895


Gold Kist Inc., a food processing company headquartered in Atlanta, Ga., will pay a $724,000 penalty for safety and health violations at a Florida poultry processing plant, and take steps to improve safety and health conditions for its poultry processing employees in five southeastern states, under an agreement announced today by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Gold Kist Inc. was issued citations as a result of OSHA inspections begun in February 1998 at its Live Oak, Fla. poultry processing plant. Under the terms of the settlement reached today, the company agreed to pay the full penalty proposed by OSHA, make significant safety and health improvements throughout its poultry processing facilities and share information with other companies on process safety with regard to ammonia refrigeration systems. The agreement is supported by the labor unions that represent employees at four Gold Kist plants.

"We are pleased that Gold Kist agreed to resolve this matter quickly to ensure maximum protection for its employees," said Secretary of Labor Alexis M. Herman. "This settlement indicates the company's willingness to go beyond the letter of the law and to serve as a role model for others in promoting workplace safety and health."

The agreement settles citations issued against the company that included: hazards related to ammonia refrigeration systems; lockout/tagout and machine guarding deficiencies; lack of hearing protection; risks relating to bloodborne exposures; electrical hazards and confined space hazards. Gold Kist Inc. agreed to correct all conditions cited at the Live Oak facility.

In addition, the settlement applies to eight other Gold Kist Inc. poultry processing facilities in Alabama and Georgia. The company, which employs 16,000 workers, also has two facilities in North Carolina and one in South Carolina, and under the terms of the settlement, the company will seek similar agreements with those states, both of which operate their own OSHA-approved occupational safety and health programs.

"Gold Kist has chosen to take a proactive stance to improve safety and health conditions for its workers at all 12 of its poultry processing facilities," said Charles Jeffress, assistant secretary for OSHA. "In its desire to move forward for the betterment of the workers, Gold Kist and OSHA can together concentrate on safety and health issues, and avoid the cost and burden of possible prolonged litigation."

Labor unions supporting the agreement reached today are: United Food and Commercial Workers Union; Bakery, Confectionary, and Tobacco Workers Union; and Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

Gold Kist's corporate safety director will be responsible for implementing the agreement, which includes establishing a safety and health program based on OSHA's voluntary guidelines for safety and health program management. Implementation of these guidelines will hold management responsible and accountable for worker safety and health from the corporate level down to front-line supervision, in addition to ensuring employee involvement in the process.

This agreement also commits the company to implement a three-year semi-annual inspection program at each of the nine poultry processing facilities to address general safety and health issues. In addition, an independent safety audit will be conducted at each of the facility's ammonia refrigeration systems, and Gold Kist will implement an aggressive incident investigation procedure to address ammonia leaks.

Finally, Gold Kist Inc. agreed to sponsor at least five "lessons learned" seminars, focused on the effective and safe operation of ammonia refrigeration systems. The seminars will be held in the five southeastern states where the company has poultry processing facilities within the next 18 months. The company agreed to invite to the training other employers in the poultry processing industry and companies within the food processing industry where ammonia refrigeration systems are used.

"Under OSHA's five-year strategic plan, we are focusing on five specific industries where we hope to help employers achieve a 15 percent reduction in occupational injury and illness rates," Jeffress said. "Food processing is one of those industries. Gold Kist's commitment to develop and then share expertise in the safe operation of ammonia refrigeration systems through the training seminars will further our goal of safeguarding workers throughout this industry."

The Gold Kist agreement will remain in effect for three years.