In These Times: She Refused To Take a Drug Test Before Getting a Workplace Injury Treated—And Was Fired

A worker’s arm was mangled in a machine. Before treatment, a manager requested a drug test.

Alicia had been an employee of the Rich Products Corporation food processing plant in Crest Hill, Ill. for three years, she says, when her arm was caught in a machine, an injury the company would invoke the next day to justify her abrupt firing. She had worked her way up to the position of lead operator of a machine that makes trays for the frozen pizzas produced at the plant. Rich Products, headquartered in Buffalo, N.Y., is a major manufacturer of frozen foods, with annual sales of more than $3.3 billion, making it the 117th largest private company in the United States.

But Alicia says she was not working at her normal station on May 172022. She was, instead, at a machine that assembles sheets of cardboard into boxes, a position for which she had never been formally trained, but helped out on occasionally, she recalls.

The machine had stopped working,” says Alicia, who is 30 and enjoys bowling and hanging out with her big extended family during her free time. (A pseudonym is being used to protect her from career repercussions.) A coworker was trying to figure out how to fix it, Alicia says. ​She opened the door to the box machine, and I was telling her how to work it, how to use the box machine, which way to turn the box,” says Alicia. ​But I forgot my hand was right there, and the roller was on, and my hand started rolling in.”

The machine ​ate my arm up,” says Alicia, who recalls screaming with pain while her limb was stuck. It took maintenance what felt like at least 30 minutes to disassemble the device so that her arm could be removed, she says. ​It took a lot of skin off me.”

That description is consistent with a photograph of her injury she sent to In These Times and Workday Magazine. It shows closely knit lacerations and tears the width of her forearm, extending from her wrist to the middle of her forearm. Anastasia Christman, senior policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project, says machines are supposed to have sufficient safety guards to prevent this kind of injury.

The company took her to the clinic and asked her to take a drug test before receiving medical care. The next day she was fired — the company cited both the injury and her refusal to take the drug test.

Rich Products already had a track record of workplace injuries. In July 2021, a worker at the plant died when his arm was pulled into a machine. Adewale Ogunyemi was 42 years old and employed as a sanitation worker at the facility. The incident occurred when he was cleaning a machine. ​The employee’s right arm was pulled into the machine rollers and he was crushed,” states an inspection detail from OSHA.

Just over a year ago, OSHA announced it was placing Rich Products on its Severe Violator Enforcement Program for the death, citing the company’s failure to implement ​lockout/​tagout” procedures to prevent the machine from accidentally turning on. OSHA concluded that Rich Products had committed a ​willful violation” and fined the company $145,027.

It’s significant to be put on the Severe Violator Enforcement Program. It’s for companies that have a total disregard for worker safety, quite frankly,” Scott Allen from the Department of Labor told In These Times and Workday Magazine. ​It’s for the really bad apples.”

Before Ogunyemi, two other workers had died in workplace accidents at the Crest Hill plant since 2016: a subcontractor, and a worker at a construction company.

Read the full article at In These Times.

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