WASHINGTON – Tyson Foods, Inc. was sentenced on June 12 in a U.S. District Court in Arkansas to pay $500,000 --the maximum fine-- for violating worker-safety regulations leading to maintenance employee Jason Kelley’s death in October 2003 in its River Valley Animal Foods plant in Texarkana, Ark., according to the Justice Department. The court also ordered Tyson Foods to serve one-year probation.
While repairing a hydrolyzer leak, Mr. Kelley was overcome with hydrogen sulfide gas and later died. Another employee and two emergency responders were hospitalized due to exposure during the rescue attempt. Two employees were also treated at the scene.
Tyson operated several R.V.A.F. plants that recycled poultry products into protein and fats for the animal-food industry, according to court documents filed in the case. As part of the rendering process in four of the plants, the company used high-pressure steam processors (hydrolyzers) to convert the poultry feather into feather meal.
Hydrogen sulfide gas is produced by decomposing biological material, such as poultry feathers. Tyson employees at these facilities were often exposed to the toxic gas when working on or near the hydrolyzers, which required frequent adjustment and replacement, the Justice Dept. charged.
Corporate safety and regional management were aware that hydrogen sulfide gas was present in the R.V.A.F. facilities and three of the four facilities with hydrolyzers had taken measures to protect employees from hydrogen sulfide gas near the hydrolyzers, as of October 2003, the Justice Dept. claimed. However, 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 R.VA.F Texarkana employee in March 2002, the Justice Dept. charged.