A tragic incident at a Mississippi chicken processing plant has led to a federal child labor investigation and a lawsuit filed by the family of a 16-year-old boy who was killed on the job. The teenager, Duvan Robert Tomas Pérez, was reportedly caught in a rotating shaft and sprockets of a machine while cleaning in the deboning area of the Mar-Jac Poultry plant in Hattiesburg on July 14.
The lawsuit names Mar-Jac Poultry, contractor Ōnin Staffing, the human resources director, and an on-duty safety supervisor as defendants. The family is seeking compensation for medical expenses, future earnings, emotional and mental distress, and attorney fees. The case has drawn attention to the plant’s safety record, with the family’s attorney, Jim Reeves, stating that another worker had been killed in a similar manner just two years prior.
Mar-Jac Poultry and Ōnin Staffing have yet to comment on the lawsuit. However, Ōnin Staffing has filed a notice of controversion with the Mississippi Workers Compensation Commission, denying that it was Pérez’s employer. Mar-Jac Poultry, on the other hand, claims it relied on Ōnin Staffing to ensure workers were of proper age and qualifications.
The company issued a statement on July 20, expressing regret over the incident and stating that it appears the worker was under 18 and should not have been hired. The company also suggested that the individual’s age and identity may have been misrepresented on the paperwork.
According to the lawsuit, Pérez was cleaning a machine that was still energized when he suffered fatal injuries. The plant’s procedure to start, stop, and lockout the equipment while it was being cleaned allegedly circumvented proper safety procedures and industry standards.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has launched an investigation into the incident. Preliminary findings suggest that lockout/tagout procedures were not utilized to disconnect power to the machine and a lockout/tagout device was not used to prevent the machine from unintentionally starting during the cleaning.
OSHA has cited Mar-Jac with 14 serious and three “other-than-serious” violations and proposed $212,646 in penalties. The agency has also highlighted the company’s history of health and safety violations dating back to 2000, including four “willful violations.”
This is the third worker fatality at the Mar-Jac plant in less than three years. The plant had violations for two deaths in 2020 and 2021, three amputations, and a hospitalized injury due to a fall.
Pérez, who was set to enter the ninth grade, enjoyed going to the gym and listening to music. He was proud of buying his first car and loved spending time with his family, according to his obituary.