OSHA: San Marcos tortilla factory faces $218,000 in fines after putting workers at risk of amputation

Hays

SAN MARCOS, Texas (KXAN) — A family-owned tortilla factory in San Marcos is facing a $218,839 fine after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration found it is putting its workers at risk of amputation or other serious injuries.

The U.S. Department of Labor said this comes after previous federal inspections and citations have already given El Milagro of Texas the chance to improve safety for its workers.

Workers complained of amputation hazards to OSHA, which led to the investigation at El Milagro. OSHA again found that the company did not to follow procedures that would prevent machines from randomly powering on or moving during maintenance, DOL said.

KXAN spoke to two former employees who said they recently quit for their own safety.

“I got shocked on multiple occasions,” Bert Baker said. “This guy got his head bashed.”

Baker is referring to the other former employee he worked alongside, Chris Hall.

“Just lifted up too fast and smashed my head on a pipe,” Hall said. “There was blood everywhere.”

Baker and Hall said their safety was repeatedly compromised.

“When I was up on a lift, and the thing just doesn’t work, you’re way up, and you’re kicking this thing, and it’s shaking all over the place,” Hall said. “And you’re like dude, this thing is not safe.”

They recount amputation dangers, as cited by the U.S. Department of Labor.

“When you’re in there, there are these blades that are super sharp, and we’re having to walk on that and shovel this corn out,” Baker said.

Still, both Baker and Hall said employees there face much more.

“They have a dryer that would shut off,” Baker said. “We would have to get inside of it… they’re like, ‘Leave the machine on, that way they have air blowing through.’ It’s like, ‘no!’ What if someone comes and hits that igniter button? What if someone trips and hits the panel? It’s going to light and cook us.”

Inspectors cited El Milagro for three repeat violations related to the energy control procedures for machines as well as four violations for failing to follow lockout/tagout procedures.

“There were times where I would lock out equipment that was dangerous to use, you leave the lock on it with your tag and your name, and you leave what’s wrong with it,” Baker said. “Well, they get there the next day, and they get mad, and they start sending text messages about why they can’t start equipment, and then they’ll cut the locks off and use it anyways.”

OSHA also cited El Milagro for a repeat violation for not fit-testing workers on respirators and another violation for not performing medical evaluations for respirator use.

“If the fines aren’t working, maybe you need to go another route,” Baker said.

OSHA is asking the tortilla company to pay $218,839 in fines. The administration cited the company for the same violations in 2015 and 2018, according to DOL.

El Milagro of Texas has 15 business days after receiving its citations to pay the fines, ask for a meeting with OSHA’s area director or contest the investigation’s findings before an independent OSHA review commission, DOL said.

The tortilla factory is located at 400 Barnes Drive in San Marcos.

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