PHILADELPHIA—Federal regulators have proposed penalties totaling $283,000 against the operator of a Hershey Co. facility in Pennsylvania that employed foreign students to repackage candy, after an inspection prompted by student complaints revealed alleged workplace safety and health violations, the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration said Feb. 21.
OSHA cited Exel Inc., an Ohio-based logistics contractor, for nine workplace safety and health violations at the Eastern Distribution Center III in Palmyra, Pa., a plant owned by Hershey and operated by Exel.
Six of those violations were classified as willful and involved the company’s alleged failure to record injuries and illnesses on the OSHA 300 log for four years, failure to evaluate the accuracy of the illness and injury logs before certifying them for three years, and failure to develop and implement an effective hearing conservation program, including audiometric testing and annual training.
These six citations come with proposed penalties of $280,000. Exel also was cited for three other-than-serious violations carrying a $3,000 penalty related to inadequate record keeping.
“Nothing useful can be learned from an unrecorded injury,’’ David Michaels, assistant labor secretary for occupational safety and health, said in a statement. “Accurate records provide critical information to employers and employees about the cause and prevention of work-related injuries. The law requires employers to maintain complete and accurate records because, without these, it is more difficult to prevent additional injuries and illnesses from occurring.’’
Exploitative, Unsafe Conditions Alleged
The complaint, filed by the National Guestworker Alliance on behalf of a group of foreign students working at the facility under the State Department’s J-1 visa program, alleged exploitative and unsafe conditions in the workplace and a number of abuses of the visa program, which is designed to promote cultural exchange. The students’ visas were sponsored by the nonprofit organization Council for Educational TravelUSA (CETUSA).
A group of 400 foreign student guestworkers employed through the J-1 visa program and working at the Palmyra warehouse staged several protests last August over their wages and working conditions (162 DLR A-11, 8/22/11). The State Department Jan. 30 banned CETUSA from the J-1 Summer Work Travel Program because of violations of labor and employment laws as well as program regulations (26 DLR A-11, 2/8/12).
OSHA said it investigated the Palmyra plant from Aug. 23, 2011, to Feb. 21, 2012. As a result of the inspection, the agency also cited SHS Group LP, a temporary staffing provider based in Lemoyne, Pa., that does business as SHS Staffing Solutions, for one serious violation—for failing to provide training to employees on the lockout/tagout of energy sources—with a proposed penalty of $5,000.
Under a contract with Exel, SHS Staffing Solutions hired the foreign students to work at the Palmyra plant repackaging Hershey candy for promotional displays, OSHA said in a statement.
Company to Contest Citations
Exel spokeswoman Lynn Anderson told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 22 the company will contest the citations and proposed penalties. Anderson said “the vast majority of these citations involve recordkeeping’’ and the alleged violations involve a single area of a single facility.
Exel has more than 40,000 employees at more than 500 sites in the United States, Canada, and Latin America, according to the company’s website.
The citations describe 42 instances from 2008 through 2011 of workplace incidents that resulted in strains, sprains, abrasions, cuts, bruises, and other injuries that were not recorded in the OSHA 300 log.
In addition, OSHA said its inspection showed workers were exposed to noise levels in bagging areas above the eight-hour action level.
In a Feb. 21 letter to Exel, OSHA recommended that the company voluntarily take certain steps to reduce or eliminate the need for workers to lift boxes from floor level, bend at the waist to retrieve or stack products, and reach to the back of pallets to retrieve products.
Those tasks may contribute to back and upper extremity disorders, OSHA said.