EFFINGHAM, S.C. (WBTW) — A South Carolina Occupational Safety and Health Administration compliance officer was in the first days of an investigation into a man’s death at McCall Farms in Effingham when the manufacturing plant’s co-president informed them that another employee had been injured within the last day, according to OSHA documents from the investigation.

“After discussing the plans for interviews, CO-President McCall Swink informed CO [compliance officer] that there was an employee that sustained an amputation during the previous night’s sanitation process in the sweet potato cut room,” the SC OSHA investigation documents into the 2020 death read. “McCall Swink explained that they were attempting to be fully transparent with CO and asked CO what the employer should do regarding reporting.

After disclosing the amputation to the on-site inspector, Swink was told that the injury needed to be reported to the state OSHA office, as well. Swink then gave the on-site inspector approval to inspect and take photos of the machine that caused the injury before it went back into service.

Within a month, OSHA would investigate a second amputation at the facility. Six months later, it would open an investigation into another fatality after Ryan Seither died while working there.

Since the September fatality, OSHA has found multiple violations at the site and gaps in McCall Farms’s safety procedures, including dangers around food processing equipment that either had already or had the potential to, injure its employees, according to more than 500 pages of inspection records obtained by News13.

2018 to 2020

Established in 1838, McCall Farms in Effingham has grown from a 2,000-acre cotton farm into a 1.1 million-square-foot food manufacturing facility with more than 1,000 employees. 

OSHA had found nine violations at McCall Farms from 2014 until the first 2020 fatality. It also found 10 violations in 1997, according to state OSHA records. The report does not detail the severity of the violations.

An investigation was triggered in 2018 after an employee cut and broke their arm when their sleeve got caught on a screw press while they were trying to remove greens from it, according to OSHA records. The employee had been on a catwalk using a pressure washer to clean the screw press as it turned. The employee had not shut the screw press down before cleaning it, and it had not been locked out.

Lockout and tagouts are essentially procedures that turn off equipment and prevent others from accidentally turning it back on.

The employee did undergo general lockout training, but did not have a lock and tag to perform it for the press, according to the documents. Only supervisors were allowed to lockout and tagout the press.

The company’s safety and health program also was evaluated as “deficient,” according to the documents.

The case audit labeled the handful of violations as “serious,” stating that McCall Farms did not give lockout and tagout training, or equipment to turn off the screw press, to those who cleaned it. The screw press was also uncovered.

An informal settlement agreement dropped the business’s penalty for the violations from $7,875 to $3,937.50.

“The Employer is entering into this agreement for economic reasons only and specifically does not admit the truth of any alleged facts, any of the characterizations of alleged conduct, or any of the conclusions set forth in the citations issued in this matter,” the settlement documents read. 

The injured employee was admitted into a hospital, received stitches and was released from the hospital the following day. They were expected to need therapy.

The Frank Jolley Investigation

McCall Farms alerted OSHA to two more incidents that injured employees during the course of the Sept. 2020 fatality investigation.

Although the OSHA documents do not name the person who was killed, Keith von Lutcken, the Florence County coroner, identified the man as Francisco Carlos Jolley to news media soon after the incident.

On Sept. 3, 2020, Jolley — known as “Frank,” according to his obituary — was with a group of electrical subcontractors working on connecting temporary power to ventilation fans on the roof above the tomato line when he came into contact with a live, exposed conductor of the supply wiring and was electrocuted, according to the documents.

Darryl Davids, the vice president for human resources at McCall Farms, said that the company’s hearts remain with Jolley’s family. “This was a terrible accident, we continue to drive safety as our most important job,” Davids said in an email to News13. “We want our folks to work safe as we provide a safe place for them to work.”

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McCall Farms has donated $10,000 to the Florence County Disabilities Foundation in Jolley’s memory.

During the opening conference for the OSHA investigation, McCall Farms Co-President McCall Swink  “expressed the family nature of the establishment, the care of their employees that the employer had, and the seriousness of safety of employees,” according to the documents.

When the inspector returned on Sept. 8, Swink informed them that an employee had sustained an amputation the previous night while they were sanitizing the sweet potato cut room. The employee’s right ring finger was amputated near the first knuckle, according to the documents.

On Oct. 5, McCall Farms reported a second amputation. OSHA also received an anonymous complaint about potential violations.

The second amputation happened when an employee was rotating a blade wheel and they were hit by the free-spinning blade, according to the documents. The employee’s right pinky finger was cut off at the first knuckle. At the time, the trans-slicer they were working on was shut off, isolated from its energy source and a lockout/tagout device was applied to it.

Several citations were issued for McCall Farms, which included items such as failing to provide fall protection for an employee, that it failed to create, document and use procedures for the control of potentially-hazardous energy, that lockout/tagout procedures were not used when cleaning a trans-slicer in the sweet potato cut room and the cut-resistant gloves weren’t provided for employees who changes and adjusted blades in a trans-slicer in the sweet potato cut room, according to OSHA documents.

The records show that some of the violations were immediately corrected during the inspection.

For the incident listed on the day of Jolley’s death, the documents said that an employee was not prohibited from working on an energized electrical circuit conductor while they were making temporary connections for a ventilation fan motor of the roof of the tomato line.

OSHA made recommendations including creating an electrical safety program, job safety planning and job briefings before each job that would expose staff to electrical hazards.

McCall Farms management told OSHA that their goals included creating a machine guarding task force, partnering with the South Carolina OSHA Office of Outreach and Education and improving safety programs.

“The employer did analyze their facilities, processes, and equipment; however, this element was rated as deficient due to inadequate guarding identified in the inspection, and energy control deficiencies that may have been properly addressed with a more thorough analysis on processes such as but not limited to wiring of ventilation fans and the means to ensure that the deenergizing work rule was being followed,” an OSHA workforce analysis reads.

The report states that machine guarding may have been improved through a more in-depth analysis of the processes in the sweet potato cut room. McCall Farms safety team and supervisors regularly walked through the production floor and checked for safety items, according to the report, and employees felt comfortable approaching managers with their concerns. However, employees were not taking the steps, or had created a process, to confirm the energy control for the trans-slicers before servicing or beginning maintenance on them, according to OSHA documents.

McCall Farms reviewed its lockout/tagout program because of the inspection, according to the documents. It also provided documentation that it disciplined employees for breaking safety rules.

McCall Farms was given an initial penalty of $34,375 after the fatality inspection following the September 2020 death of Frank Jolley, according to federal OSHA records. That penalty has been reduced to $26,125.

“Cause You Pause”

The fatality investigation following the February death of Ryan Seither is still ongoing, and OSHA documents regarding it were not available at the time of publication.

Davids said that McCall Farms is saddened by Seither’s death.

Seither was a contractor with Innovative Refrigeration Systems in Virginia, and was not an employee of McCall Farms. Davids said that McCall Farms did not supervise his work and that at the time of his death, Seither was working on the refrigeration system alone while the plant was closed.

Seither’s cause of death is still pending as authorities wait for toxicology reports, according to Florence County Coroner Keith von Lutcken.

SC OSHA investigations can take between a day and six months to complete, according to Kristina Baker, the deputy director for labor for the South Carolina Department of Labor.

Davids said McCall Farms has implemented many safety procedures to prevent employees from being injured. After the recent injuries and fatalities, he said the plant has focused on retraining employees on lockout and tagout procedures, confined spaces, arc flashes, powered industrial equipment, fall protection, and hot work permits. It also has a safety team.

Since the incidents, Davids said its lone worker safety policies remain as it relates to contractors. There are also personal protective equipment and general contractor safety rules that include lockout and tagouts, along with other required OSHA regulations.

“Retraining for current employees has taken place along with improved guarding around equipment with moving parts,” Davids said.

Employers must notify OSHA within eight hours of a fatality. Businesses must also contact OSHA if there is an incident that injures three or more people or if an employee is hospitalized.

News13 asked Baker if OSHA has concerns about McCall Farms.

“I think any time you end up having to interact with an employer more than once in a given period of time, it does cause you pause,” Baker said. “However, our goal is to always work with that employer to figure out what is going on — have you expanded your facility or have new safety directors? — those kinds of things.”

Once on site, Baker said a compliance officer will announce themselves before going to the area where the incident took place. The investigation focuses on the area where an incident occurred, but any hazards spotted along the way are also noted. Sometimes, dangers can be fixed on the spot. Other times, the solution includes ordering new equipment, which can take weeks. If there’s something that could put employers in imminent danger, that piece of equipment or process is immediately taken out of commission until further steps to correct the issue are taken.

The process of calculating financial penalties for violations takes into account the employer’s safety history with OSHA, how often the agency has been on site, how many citations the company has had and how willing it’s been to work with OSHA to resolve the issues. Employers are also required to take steps to fix the violations.

Baker said employers have the right to try to reduce the penalty. This includes going through an informal conference process with a compliance officer where the company explains what they are doing to fix or eliminate a hazard. Potential solutions can include training or purchasing additional equipment.

Baker said that McCall Farms has been cooperative with SC OSHA and the investigations, and that it does not suspect that there have been unreported incidents at the Effingham business.

“I don’t have any indication that that is the case,” Baker said.

Davids said that McCall Farms is committed to providing a safe workplace.

“From the Company owners to all workers, we strive to work safe and be compliant to all regulations,” he said in an email. “We had already started the process for VPP Certification with OSHA as well as partnering with them for OSHA Consultative On-site Services. We have been a part of this community for over 100 years and, with as many as 1,400 employees, we will continue to provide a positive place for folks to build a career.”