Company fined $310k after worker’s death

Monterey County District Attorney Dean Flippo announced Monday that a Salinas produce-cooling company has agreed to pay $310,000 in costs and civil penalties to resolve a worker fatality action for the death of an employee four years ago when a piece of equipment fell on him.

The action involved the April 26, 2013 death of Jose Juan Serrano, 30, while he was working on a large piece of machinery at Growers Street Cooling at 1060 Growers St. in Salinas as he was applying plastic covering to pallets of strawberries.

Prosecutors said a portion of a pallet broke off and became lodged, causing the machine to stop and Serrano failed to press the emergency-shutoff switch before dislodging the wood, causing a large counterweight to fall and kill him instantly.

Flippo said Serrano began working for Growers Street Cooling as a machine operator on April 10, 2013, only 16 days before his death, and was assigned to operate a TransFresh Tectrol machine.

He said the machine is a piece of heavy machinery that wraps pallets of strawberries in plastic wrap and uses hydraulics to squeeze the strawberry containers in on the pallet for easier shipping and handling.

As the compression occurs, a large counterweight on the opposite end balances the machine, according to Flippo.

The day Serrano was killed, he was operating the Tectrol machine alone, when a wooden pallet became lodged inside the machine and caused it to jam, Flippo said.

Serrano climbed behind the machine and used a crowbar to release the wood but he didn’t turn off the machine or perform any lock-out/tag-out procedures so the large counterweight was activated as soon as the wood jam was cleared and it crushed him against the wall and killed him, according to prosecutors.

Flippo said state law requires businesses using heavy machinery, such as the Tectrol Machine, to train workers in proper lock-out/tag-out procedures to minimize accidental injury and death.

He said lock-out/tag-out procedures outline the mandatory steps that any worker attempting to maintain, repair, or clean machinery must follow to ensure worker safety but Growers Street Cooling never trained Serrano on those procedures before assigning him to operate the Tectrol machine.

Flippo said Growers Street Cooling also didn’t maintain a written lock-out/tag-out policy and training program for employees and systematically violated worker safety laws.

He said a court-ordered injunction requires Growers Street Cooling to maintain and implement written hazardous energy control procedures, including lock-out/tag-out procedures, for all heavy machinery and maintain and implement written training programs for lock-out/tag-out procedures.

Flippo said the injunction also orders the company to conduct annual inspections of its lock-out/tag-out procedures and not assign employees to operate any machinery unless they are trained about the machine’s hazards.

Growers Street Cooling has recently provided proof that it is now implementing written lock-out/tag-out procedures and training its employees who work on heavy machinery, according to Flippo.