Companies were fined $1 million after officials said a poultry plant leak that killed 6 employees was ‘entirely avoidable’

A photos of the Foundation Food Group sign with police tape in front of it.
Tanks of liquid nitrogen are seen at the Prime Pak Foods poultry processing plant after a liquid nitrogen leak earlier in the day resulted in six deaths and multiple hospitalizations on January 28, 2021, in Gainesville, Georgia.

  • A liquid nitrogen leak at a poultry plant in Georgia killed six workers in January.
  • Federal officials said Friday their deaths were “entirely avoidable” had the proper precautions been taken.
  • Four companies have been fined a total of near $1 million in the incident.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Four companies have been fined a total of almost $1 million for a liquid nitrogen leak at a poultry plant in Gainesville, Georgia that killed six employees, federal officials said Friday.

An investigation by the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration found Foundation Food Group and Messer “failed to implement any of the safety procedures necessary to prevent the nitrogen leak, or to equip workers responding to it with the knowledge and equipment that could have saved their lives,” the agency said in a statement.

Foundation Food Group is a poultry processing company based in Gainesville. Messer is an industrial gas company based in Bridgewater, New Jersey, that installed the freezer system at the plant that was the source of the leak.

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The leak occurred on January 28 when a freezer at the poultry processing facility malfunctioned, “releasing colorless, odorless liquid nitrogen into the plant’s air, displacing the oxygen in the room,” the statement said.

Three plant maintenance workers entered the freezer and died immediately. OSHA said they had never been trained on the dangers of liquid nitrogen. Two other workers also died immediately, and a sixth died while en route to the hospital. At least a dozen other workers at the facility were injured and transported to hospitals.

“Six people’s deaths, and injuries suffered by at least a dozen others, were entirely avoidable,” U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said in the statement. “The Department of Labor is dedicated to upholding the law and using everything in our power to get justice for the workers’ families.”

The victims were identified by the Hall County Sheriff’s office as Jose DeJesus Elias-Cabrera, 45; Corey Alan Murphy, 35; Nelly Perez-Rafael, 28; Saulo Suarez-Bernal, 41; Victor Vellez, 38; and Edgar Vera-Garcia, 28.

Gainesville is often called the “Poultry Capital of the World” due to its large number of poultry plants. The city has a population of about 40,000 people, about 40% of which are Hispanic.

The OSHA statement said repeatedly that the deaths were avoidable had the proper precautions been taken.

“This horrible tragedy could have been prevented had the employers taken the time to use – and teach their workers the importance of – safety precautions,” Kurt Petermeyer, an OSHA regional administrator in Atlanta, said. “We hope other industry employers learn from this terrible incident and comply with safety and health requirements to prevent similar incidents.”

The companies were cited for 59 violations, totaling $998,673 in fines.

The other two companies implicated were Packers Sanitation Services of Kieler, Wisconsin, which provided cleaning and sanitation services to the plant, and FSGroup of Albertville, Alabama, which manufactures equipment and provides mechanical servicing.

Insider has reached out to all four companies for comment.

Foundation Food Group said in a statement to The New York Times that it would challenge some of the citations that “it believes to be unjustified and unsupported by the facts.” It said it would continue working to address the “root cause,” which it said had to do with a bent tube on the freezer that could not accurately measure the amount of liquid nitrogen. The tube was not addressed in OSHA’s citations.

Packers Sanitation Services told the Times it disagreed with its fines and that its employees “were in no way involved with this tragic incident.”

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The SEC told Tesla twice that Elon Musk’s tweets violated court orders requiring preapproval from company lawyers

Elon Musk looking at his iPhone .JPG
Tesla CEO Elon Musk looks at his mobile phone.

  • The SEC told Tesla that Elon Musk twice violated court orders regarding his Twitter use, The Wall Street Journal reported.
  • A 2018 settlement between Musk, Tesla, and the SEC required Tesla lawyers to preapprove tweets by Musk about the business.
  • Musk’s tweets about Tesls’s solar roof production and stock price violated that order, the SEC reportedly told the company.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Securities and Exchange Commission told Tesla last year that CEO Elon Musk twice violated a court order requiring the company to preapprove his tweets, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

In 2018, Musk and Tesla reached an agreement with the SEC to settle charges that Musk had committed fraud by tweeting that he had secured funding to take Tesla private, when in fact he had not. As part of that settlement, Musk and Tesla each paid $20 million and agreed to have Tesla lawyers review Musk’s social media posts in advance.

But according to The Journal, the SEC wrote to Tesla in 2019 and 2020 to tell the company that two of Musk’s tweets – concerning the company’s solar roof production levels and its stock price – had violated the court order.

Tesla told the agency that the two tweets were “wholly aspirational” and a “personal opinion” expressed by Musk, respectively, and therefore didn’t require pre-approval, according to The Journal.

“In the face of Mr. Musk’s repeated refusals to submit his covered written communications on Twitter to Tesla for pre-approval, we are very concerned by Tesla’s repeated determinations that there have been no policy violations because of purported carve-outs,” the SEC wrote in response, The Journal reported.

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

Tesla’s oversight regarding Musk’s tweets has repeatedly drawn the ire of the SEC. The agency accused Tesla as early as February 2019 of violating the court order, that time about Tesla’s promise to build 500,000 cars by the end of the year, leading the court to order the two parties to agree on which topics required pre-approval.

Musk has also sparred with other regulatory agencies that have sought to rein in behavior by the company, including restarting operations at a California warehouse in violation of local pandemic lockdown orders, disputes with the National Transportation Safety Board over a fatal crash involving a Tesla, and avoiding workplace safety regulations in Nevada.

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