LONE JACK, Mo. – A federal workplace safety investigation at a Lone Jack cattle processing plant – now cited seven times by inspectors for endangering workers since March 2020 – found employees exposed to high levels of carbon dioxide.
Dry ice used to keep meat at safe temperatures emits the carbon dioxide gas. Excessive exposure to carbon dioxide can cause headaches, dizziness, breathing difficulty, tremors, confusion, and potentially, death. Long-term health effects may surface months or years later.
Investigators with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration allege that – despite knowing hazardous levels of carbon dioxide existed – ZMDR LLC, which operates as Republic Foods, did not put an employee monitoring program in place or implement effective engineering controls to limit workers’ exposure to the dangers.
In September 2022, OSHA measurements showed the company allowed employees to be exposed to carbon dioxide ranging from 7,100 to 10,000 parts per million, far exceeding the OSHA permissible exposure level standard of 5,000 parts per million. OSHA cited the company in November 2020 for allowing the same hazard to exist at the Missouri processing plant.
“Exposing workers to high levels of carbon dioxide can cause serious illnesses and even death,” explained OSHA Area Director Karena Lorek in Kansas City, Missouri. “Republic Foods failed to increase employee monitoring or change engineering controls to reduce the exposure.”
OSHA proposed $573,913 in penalties to Republic Foods after inspectors identified two willful, four repeated, and seven serious safety and health violations. In addition to exposing workers to hazardous levels of carbon dioxide, federal inspectors found the company exposed workers to slip, trip and fall hazards, failed to make sure required machine guarding was in place, and violated electrical workplace safety standards.
In all, OSHA has issued the company citations for 35 violations in five previous inspections from its 2020 opening through May 2022. An additional inspection remains open at the plant.
Based in Lone Jack, Republic Foods produces prime, choice and select cuts of beef for retail and food service customers.
The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.