News & Politics

Man Trying to Improve Worker Safety at Fish Plant 'Intentionally' Allowed to Die on Conveyor Belt, Lawsuit Alleges

A lawsuit filed in federal court alleges that a worker was intentionally left inside the machine that killed him.

Photo Credit: complianceandsafety.com

Did a fish processing plant intentionally leave a worker inside the conveyor that killed him? That’s what the mother of a man who tried to unionize the plant is alleging in federal court, according to a report in Courthouse News Service.

The mother, Cynthia Hebert, is suing Omega Protein, the processing plant, and ACE American Insurance Co. and ESIS Inc over the death of her son, Christopher Hebert. Hebert, 24, was killed by a machine at the Omega plant, a workplace in Mississippi that Hebert had said was unsafe. The family is seeking damages for wrongful death, among other charges.

The mother is claiming that the fish plant “engaged in intentional conduct designed to bring about injury, or death, to Christopher.” Omega Protein produces fish oil. The other companies being sued provide workers’ compensation to Omega Protein; the lawsuit says the companies failed to inspect the plant’s safety.

Hebert, who worked for Omega Protein for three years, died on April 9. He was directed to “weld the seams of a newly installed hopper that released fish products into a single screw conveyor at its base,” according to the Courthouse News Service. But the man assigned to be his spotter was not the same person who normally worked with Hebert. While working, the “the single screw conveyor was energized and operational,” and the safety person assigned to watch Hebert left. After the safety watchperson left, another worker was told to turn on the conveyor, which eventually killed Hebert. He was dragged into the machine feet-first and began screaming for help. He died of massive blood loss.

The family says this was intentional. “Omega Protein intentionally chose not to have lockout equipment and safety rules for the single screw conveyor which killed Christopher,” the lawsuit alleges.

Before the incident that killed him, Hebert tried to organize his workplace. He complained to his supervisors about the dangerous working conditions he was laboring under, but they paid no heed. When he tried to unionize the plant, he was met with “harsh resistance” from the plant’s ownership and was harassed.

Alex Kane is former World editor at AlterNet. His work has appeared in Mondoweiss, Salon, VICE, the Los Angeles Review of Books and more. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.