Safety and OSHA News

Worker killed in meat grinder; family sues for $5M

The family of a worker who was killed in a large meat grinder is suing the company that owned the machine for more than $5 million.

On April 26, 2013, 41-year-old Hugo Avalos-Chanon of Portland, OR, was part of a maintenance crew working at Interstate Meat Distributors in Clackamas, OR.

Avalos-Chanon worked for DCS Sanitation Management, a company hired by Interstate to perform work at its plant. He was using a garden hose to spray hot water on a meat-blending machine during regular nightly maintenance.

While Avalos-Chanon was cleaning, power to the machine was turned on.

No one saw what happened next, but Oregon Occupational and Health Division investigators believe the hose may have come apart at a coupling. When a portion of the hose fell into a mixing tank, it wrapped around a mixing bar and pulled Avalos-Chanon into the machine.

Workers heard Avalos-Chanon scream, and a co-worker hit the emergency shut-off. But it was too late. He died at the plant. The medical examiner says he died from blunt-force injuries and chopping wounds.

Oregon OSHA fined Interstate $450 for a violation unrelated to the incident.

The agency fined DCS $6,300. OROSHA says DCS failed to:

  • train workers in the safe operation of machinery
  • make sure employees didn’t remove machine guards, and
  • develop, document and use procedures for the control of potentially hazardous energy when employees cleaned machinery.

In the lawsuit, the wife, children and parents of Avalos-Chanon claim Interstate didn’t follow standard safety procedures to ensure that the meat grinder was properly shut off and couldn’t start until maintenance was finished.

The lawsuit only names Interstate. There’s no explanation as to why DCS isn’t being sued also, but it may be because of the exclusive remedy of workers’ compensation. Employees generally can’t sue their employer. Avalos-Chanon worked for DCS, not Interstate.

Interstate had also been inspected by OROSHA in 2012. The agency issued several citations, including one for not effectively supervising employees to ensure procedures for controlling hazardous energy were implemented. Three machines weren’t locked out during a tear-down process, and employees were exposed to the potential unexpected start-up of the machines. An Interstate employee had lost a finger in one such incident.

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