You read that right: Case Farms Processing Inc., a chicken processing plant in Ohio, racked up 16 health and safety violations, according to Insurance Journal, and nearly $1.4 million in assorted OSHA fines. The report states the processor is so negligent that OSHA placed it on its Severe Violator Enforcement Program because of its many and repeated safety violations. Insurance Journal notes throughout the year, OSHA has penalized the company for its seeming disregard for employee safety, starting with the fact that…
- A deficient ammonia refrigeration system exposed employees to ammonia and the risk of respiratory illnesses.
- Several poultry workers suffered symptoms of campylobacter infection, a foodborne illness.
- Workers were routinely exposed to dangerous machinery.
The report states the plant's negligence hit a fever pitch when two young workers – a 17-year-old Cal-Clean cleaning contractor and a 24-year-old Case employee – lost their leg and fingertips respectively while cleaning machinery in the plant this year.
Of course, Case Farms was solely liable for its employee's injuries, but in a somewhat surprising twist, it was also fined over the cleaning contractor's leg amputation. Even though Case wasn't the worker's employer and didn't oversee his work, the accident could have been prevented if only it had installed the appropriate safety mechanisms on the machine.
The entire grisly situation is a reminder that your business can be held liable not only for your employees' work injuries, but your contractors' injuries, too.
A Big Liability Lesson for Small-Business Owners
This story has several valuable teaching moments, but maybe the most important one is that you can be fined over any workplace accidents, no matter if they affect your employees or independent contractors and subcontractors whose work you don't supervise. You can be…
- Assessed by OSHA and receive heaping fines over safety violations that allowed the accident to happen.
- Sued by independent workers over the negligence that made their injuries possible.
That may be news to some business owners who assume working with an independent contractor means they are liability-free for that worker's injuries. Unfortunately, even if the contractor or subcontractor has their own Workers' Compensation Insurance or is covered by their employer's insurance, accidents that happen because of your negligence are still your problem.
Why Workers' Compensation Insurance Alone Isn't Enough
It's tempting to think Workers' Compensation Insurance can make all these troubles disappear. It's designed to cover medical expenses for work injuries, right? Problem solved!
Not so fast.
Yes, Workers' Comp can…
- Address employee medical costs and lost wages when an occupational injury puts them out of commission.
- Include Employer's Liability Insurance, which can cover legal expenses if you are sued over the negligence that caused an employee's (or contractor's) injury.
But no insurance coverage can cover OSHA fines over workplace safety violations. Those expenses come entirely out of your pocket because it's your duty as an employer to provide a safe workplace for every worker. (Read more about your responsibilities in "New OSHA Poster Outlines Worker Rights & Employer Responsibilities.")
That's why, in addition to carrying Workers' Comp coverage, you should prioritize making your workplace as safe as possible. Follow OSHA health and safety regulations, and hopefully, your workers won't have to draw on your coverage in the first place. To brush up on those standards, read "A Crash Course in Types of OSHA Violations."