Clipped From Asheville Citizen-Times
Poultry plant fines adding up State gleans sizable collection for health, safety violations THE ASSOCIATED PRESS RALEIGH - The state has ' collected more than $61,000 in penalties penalties from poultry operations for health and safety violations, state Department of Labor records indicate. indicate. But two-thirds two-thirds two-thirds of those penalties penalties were paid in one case involving Perdue Farms that was settled this year. The other $21,000 in penalties came during 20 years of inspections inspections at the state's poultry operations. operations. Those penalties cover at least two fatalities and accidents that injured at least 23 people. Inspection records from the Department of Labor obtained by The Associated Press indicate that only 40 of 83 poultry processing operations in North Carolina have ever been checked by health and safety inspectors. The records were requested after a Sept. 3 fire at Imperial Food Products in Hamlet that killed 25 people and injured 56. The plant had never been inspected inspected in 11 years of operation. Of the 40 plants that were inspected, inspected, 30 were cited for violations violations of health and safety standards, standards, the Labor Department records records show. Of $61,140 in penalties levied by the state, $39,030 were in repetitive repetitive motion injury cases involving the Perdue Farms plants in Lewis-ton Lewis-ton Lewis-ton and Robersonville. Perdue agreed to accept the penalty in February and change its process to reduce repetitive motion injuries. injuries. Perdue's challenge of another $720 in penalties still is unresolved. unresolved. The department lists violations violations as "serious," "willful," "repeat" "repeat" and "other." Penalties range front nothing for most non-serious non-serious non-serious violations to a maximum of $14,000 for willful and repeat violations. The maximum penalty for willful and repeat violations violations will climb to $70,000 on Jan. 1. Serious violations now are assessed assessed a maximum penalty of $2,500, but the new cap effective Jan. 1 will be $7,000. Until Oct. 1, 1990, serious violations had a maximum maximum penalty of $1,000. The department reduces fines for a number of reasons, said Mark Schulz, executive director of the North Carolina Occupational Safety Safety and Health Project. "It's fairly rare that they actually actually give the maximum," Schulz said. "They have a whole scheme for reducing the maximum fine - if it's a small company, or they have a good record, for instance. The biggest problem was that the maximum did not increase with inflation. inflation. "Companies rarely challenged the penalties because it would cost more money to hire a lawyer than pay the thing," Schulz said. Schulz said the low fines and lack of inspections had encouraged businesses not to worry about health and safety issues. He said his group once asked private consulting companies what they would charge for a safety audit audit of a typical plant; a good audits ing firm -about -about $1,200. "For a company that is not particularly concerned about health and safety, it is better financially financially to wait and hope you don't get inspected," Schulz said. "As a strictly financial decision, knowing how few inspectors are out there, it makes better business sense to take a chance.