Fourteen months after a chemical spill at a Gainesville poultry plant killed 6 workers, another spill left 4 more workers injured this past March. A spokesperson for Gold Creek Foods confirmed that on March 11, approximately 100 gallons of bleach leaked out of a tank after it was punctured by an unnamed 3rd party during delivery. The 4 poultry plant workers who attempted to stop the leak were later treated for eye irritation and other minor injuries.
This incident marks the 3rd chemical spill the plant has seen within the past 14 months, although the 2 previous leaks in 2021 occurred under different ownership.
In January 2021, 6 workers were killed when a line transporting nitrogen broke in the plant, generating a fog that was odorless and extremely cold. A little less than 2 months later, workers were also exposed to an ammonia leak.
Risks of chemical exposure in the workplace
According to the Georgia Poultry Federation, Georgia produces an average of 31 million pounds of poultry and 7 million eggs every day, making it the leading poultry-producing state in the U.S.
Like many other factories, poultry processing facilities use a variety of chemicals that can pose potential risks to their workers. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that an average of 13 million workers in the U.S. are exposed to hazardous chemicals that can be absorbed through the skin.
The type of chemical and nature and length of exposure all play a role in determining the severity and impact of the injuries and diseases after being exposed to toxic chemicals.
Possible injuries and illnesses include:
- Neurological impairment related to prolonged exposure to specific substances
- Burns from hazardous chemicals that come into direct touch with the skin
- Rashes (contact dermatitis) caused by skin irritation or allergies to chemicals
- Skin cancer
- Asthma and other illnesses related to breathing difficulties
- Eye irritation
- Vision impairment and blindness
- Headaches, nausea and dizziness
- Congenital disabilities in babies born to mothers who were exposed to certain chemicals during pregnancy
Georgia worker safety and future regulations
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is investigating the incident, but, unfortunately, the agency doesn’t have the authority to shut down the plant.
Shelly Anand, who works for the immigrant worker rights non-profit organization Sur Legal Collaborative, based in Atlanta, Georgia, is representing many of the families affected by the chemical spills at the plant.
According to Anand, many of the workers at the plant are immigrants who are often worried about reporting unsafe working conditions to authorities due to fear of retaliation or concerns about their immigration status.
She notes that although most of the workers’ injuries in the most recent incident were minor, this type of repeated exposure to potentially life-threatening accidents can have long-term impacts on workers’ physical and mental well-being.
Anand says her organization is advocating for a safer work environment for these employees, which includes having additional emergency exits for workers to escape outdoors in the event of another spill and better communication with employees, who often speak Spanish as their 1st language.
What to do if you suffer a work injury in Georgia
Chemical exposure may result in immediate injury as well as long-term health consequences. If you’re injured in a chemical spill accident, be sure to notify your employer as soon as possible. In Georgia, workers’ compensation is typically available as long as the employer is notified of the event within 30 days.
Georgia’s workers’ compensation laws are designed to protect both employers and employees in case of workplace accidents. Georgia is a no-fault jurisdiction for work-related accidents. That means that an employee does not need to prove their employer was at-fault for the accident in order to receive compensation.
However, it’s important to understand that when you’re injured on the job, you don’t automatically receive workers’ compensation benefits. In order to receive compensation, you must file a workers’ compensation claim.
Workers’ comp is considered an exclusive remedy, meaning that in most cases, you can’t sue your employer directly. Although in cases where another party, such as a manufacturer or transportation company, may have contributed to your injuries, you may be able to file a lawsuit against a 3rd party.
Because workers’ compensation claims involving chemical exposure can be more complex than other cases, you should contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to ensure your rights are protected.