Breaking News: North Carolina Sweet Potato Farm Where Worker Died Cited for OSHA Violations

March 20 , 2024

Spring Hope, North Carolina – March 11, 2024 – According to Yahoo, the North Carolina Department of Labor (DOL) reported a Nash County sweet potato farm has been fined over $187,000 following the death of one of its workers last year.

The DOL began an inspection of state Occupational Safety and Health standards at Barnes Farming Corp. on September 6, 2023, after José Alberto Gonzalez Mendoza died. The 30-year-old had passed out from apparent heat exhaustion while picking sweet potatoes the day before.

Barnes Farming Corp., located in Spring Hope, was cited with the maximum penalty of $187,509 for three serious violations—one designated as “willful”—of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of North Carolina, according to a news release. The family of North Carolina Sen. Lisa Barnes, a Nash County Republican, owns and operates the company. Her husband, Johnny Barnes, is its president.

The company, through an attorney, said it plans to appeal the citations, which it said are based on “merely allegations.”

Barnes Farming defended its workplace protections, saying in a statement that it “takes the health and safety of each one of its team members extremely seriously, has prioritized health and safety since the farm started, and continues to do so.”

The OSHA citation and penalty documents detail that the alleged “willful, serious” violation was due to the following reasons:

  • Workers were exposed to heat-related hazards, including working in 91-degree heat without an established “work/rest schedule for high-heat conditions.”
  • Workers were only allowed to take one five-minute break in a six-hour workday.
  • There was not an adequate supply of drinking water for workers.
  • The employer did not allow the migrant H-2A workers an acclimatization period so that they could get used to the heat.
  • Workers were not trained in reporting emergencies, first-aid procedures, and procedures for dealing with symptoms of heat-related illnesses.

According to Barnes Farming, Gonzalez Mendoza came to the farm from Mexico with a seasonal H-2A visa less than 14 days before his death. He died at the farm before EMS could arrive, according to the DOL.

Barnes Farming, about 40 miles east of Raleigh, North Carolina, released a statement last year stating that it “makes every effort to comply with all regulatory requirements, and we follow well-established policies concerning workplace safety and environmental conditions.”

The company also said through an attorney that workers were “empowered to take breaks when needed, and [the company] does not limit these breaks to specific times.”

Barnes Farming Cited by Labor Department

The department said the maximum penalty for a willful, serious violation is $156,259, and the maximum penalty for each serious violation is $15,625.

The two other citations of severe violations were due to the following conditions:

  • No first aid or professional health care services were summoned when Gonzalez Mendoza first reported feeling ill and showed signs of heat-related illness. Another worker called 911 50 minutes after he first reported feeling ill.
  • Thirty-two workers harvesting sweet potatoes and cutting tobacco in high-heat conditions were not provided with drinking cups.

In an audio recording from a 911 call requesting an ambulance after Gonzalez Mendoza passed out, a worker told the dispatcher, “I have a guy that … he just passed out. We’re picking sweet potatoes, and it’s hot out here,” according to records.

When issuing citations, the Labor Department considers various factors, such as a company’s size, employer violation history, and the gravity of the violations.

Barnes Farming has 15 working days from receipt of the citations to appeal and contest the DOL’s OSHA inspection findings or pay the penalty.

The appeal would be heard by the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission of North Carolina, an independent board appointed by the governor.

Our thoughts remain with Jose’s friends, family, and loved ones.

The Ramsay Law Firm has attorneys who are Board Certified in Workers’ Compensation claims to help individuals with severe injuries and death claims.

A Voice For The Injured. Here Every Step of The Way. Call 704-376-1616 or contact us online.

Notes: Our team created this post using secondary sources and has not independently verified all the facts surrounding the accident. If you find any incorrect details, please contact the Ramsay Law Firm so we can update the post with the most accurate information. This post will be removed if requested.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is not intended to be legal or medical advice and is not a solicitation for business. The photograph used in this post is not representative of this accident. If you are injured in an accident, seek medical attention immediately, then speak to a North Carolina personal injury lawyer as soon as possible.

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