ADOSH: No Safety Violations at Hickman's Egg Factory in Arlington

Does this label look familiar?
Does this label look familiar? Elizabeth Whitman
click to enlarge Does this label look familiar? - ELIZABETH WHITMAN
Does this label look familiar?
Elizabeth Whitman
Hickman's Family Farms, the site of several recent, serious injuries among state prison inmate workers, has not violated any federal worker safety regulations, a state inspection has found.

“No apparent violations of the OSHA standards were observed,” states the report from that safety inspection, which Arizona Department of Occupational Safety and Health released to Phoenix New Times this month.

The inspection was prompted by a New Times story from September about an incarcerated worker, Mary Stinson, who lost part of her finger to a chicken feeder that she said she'd barely been trained on.

The inspection was conducted at Hickman's facility in Arlington, where Stinson was injured. Records from the report indicate that Hickman's has formally reported 18 injuries since 2016.

The company, which describes itself as the largest egg producer in the Southwest and among the top 20 largest in the U.S., also has facilities in Tonopah and Maricopa.

ADOSH safety compliance officer Cristian Teudan spent about four hours at the Arlington plant on September 25. The facility did not receive advance notice of his inspection, said the report, which had a cover letter that was rife with typos and was mistakenly addressed to two different people — first to Eddrick Moreland, Hickman's safety coordinator, before opening, "Dear Mrs. Miller."

Trevor Laky, a spokesperson for the Industrial Commission of Arizona, which includes ADOSH, confirmed that the two different names were in error.

In that time span, Teudan interviewed a few workers at Arlington, walked around the facility, took photos, and got training materials and other training-related documentation from management.

click to enlarge Inside Hickman's facility in Arlington. - ADOSH
Inside Hickman's facility in Arlington.
Of the 24 workers at the facility, "a large number [were] provided from Perryville prison," the report said.

The inspection focused on five issues: Stinson's finger amputation, the lack of employee training she alleged, "lock-out tag-out" training for specific machinery, smells and substances, and respiratory masks and personal protective equipment.

The inspector observed no apparent violations in any of those categories, the report said.

"I was shown the training room where all training is conducted with new employees that are hired," the inspector wrote in the report. "Employees go through a one week training program that covers the company safety and health program, machinery, lock-out tag out, chemicals and sanitation, PPE [personal protective equipment] and other relative safety and health trainings."

Employees interviewed told the inspector that they received regular training.

During his tour, "there was no smells or substance observed," the inspector added, even as he said that "smells noted" came from birds inside the barns and a nearby fertilizer plant. 

The inspector also saw the area where Stinson lost part of her finger.

"It was explained to me that the employee who was injured had completed the company training which included augers, conveyers and machine guarding three days prior to the incident occurrence," the report said. "According to management, it is believed that this incident was a result of employee error/ mis-conduct for placing her hand in the auger resulting in the injury."

The 600-page report included hundreds of sign-in sheets from weekly safety meetings covering hydration, communication, pinch points, bird movement safety, emergency procedures, and other topics. All the names in the sign-in sheets were redacted.

The only problem the inspector found was a potential violation — a missing "guard cover to the feces conveyer located in Barn 19" — that he "strongly" suggested the company fix.

click to enlarge Much of the work at Hickman's is done by robots. - ADOSH
Much of the work at Hickman's is done by robots.
“Though this was an apparent OSHA violation, not all elements were met for a citation and will be addressed to the employer with a Letter of Recommendation,” the report said.

Laky said that elements for a citation included having a recognized hazard, an OSHA standard for that hazard, employee exposure, and employer knowledge.

The file also included Hickman's records of work-related injuries and illnesses in Arlington in the past few years.

In 2018, the egg factory reported five injuries among 46 employees. The records offered little detail other than that two of those cases required the person to take time off from work (10 days total), two involved job transfers or restrictions (27 days' worth), and one was simply "recordable."

In 2017, Hickman's reported three injuries that led to workers' taking a total of 20 days off work; in 2016, there were 10 injuries, one case classified as "skin disorder," and two labeled "other." 

Hickman's employs 540 civilians in Arizona, according to the ADOSH report. The company runs two shifts, one from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. and another, for sanitation, from 4 p.m. to 3 a.m.

Inmates have provided labor for Hickman's for 25 years, but they are not included in the report's employee count because Arizona does not classify inmates as employees. They also do not receive the same protections and benefits. It's not clear whether the injuries reported by the company since 2016 include injuries to its incarcerated workers.

click to enlarge A wall of ventilation fans in the poultry lay barns. - ADOSH
A wall of ventilation fans in the poultry lay barns.
On any given day, about 200 of Hickman's workers are inmates, from “a pool of 300 that we use,” Jim Manos, Hickman's CFO, told New Times in September.

This safety inspection of Hickman's was the first in in five years, records show.

Manos did not respond to New Times' request for comment on the ADOSH report.

Hickman's Family Farms has been in business for 75 years. The family, which is influential in Arizona, still owns and operates the business. Clint Hickman, the company's vice president of sales and marketing, is one of five Maricopa County Supervisors.
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Elizabeth Whitman was a staff writer for Phoenix New Times from March 2019 to April 2020.