WASHINGTON — After a long investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor, Tyson Foods Inc. plead guilty and agreed to pay a $500,000 fine on Jan. 6 for violating worker safety regulations that led to a worker’s death in 2003. According to the D.O.J., Tyson will also be placed on probation for one year as part of it pleading guilty to "a willful violation of an OSHA standard resulting in the death of an employee."

Court records state that in October, 2003 a maintenance worker, Jason Kelley, was overcome by exposure to hydrogen sulfide gas while repairing a leak at the company’s River Valley Animal Foods plant in Texarkana, Ark. Mr. Kelley later died while several other employees and rescue workers were also treated for exposure to the gas. The leak occurred on one of the company’s four hydrolizers used in the rendering process at the RVAF facilities.

The D.O.J. found that workers at the RVAF facilities were often exposed to the toxic gas when working near the hydrolyzers, which were adjusted and replaced regularly. While the company’s safety managers were aware of the hazards and existence of the gas near the hydrolyzers and took steps to protect workers, "Tyson Foods did not take sufficient steps to implement controls or protective equipment to reduce exposure within prescribed limits or provide effective training to employees on hydrogen sulfide gas at the Texarkana facility despite an identical exposure, resulting in hydrogen sulfide poisoning of an RVAF Texarkana employee in March 2002," the D.O.J. concluded.

"Federal laws require employers to undertake steps that limit exposure to dangerous substances like the gas that killed Jason Kelley. Tyson Foods willfully ignored these regulations and today is being held responsible," said Ronald J. Tenpas, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division.

Tyson Foods pleaded guilty today to a "willful violation of an OSHA standard resulting in the death of an employee," the most serious offense available to OSHA.

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