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16-year-old boy dies in accident at a Mississippi poultry plant

It's the second time in two years that a worker has died from injuries sustained in an accident at the Mar-Jac poultry facility.
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A 16-year-old boy from Guatemala died as a result of an on-the-job accident at a poultry plant in Mississippi, authorities said Tuesday.

It happened at about 8 p.m. on July 14 at the Mar-Jac Poultry plant in Hattiesburg, Forrest County deputy coroner Lisa Klem said.

Workers under the age of 18 are not allowed to work in poultry plants because it’s deemed to be too dangerous and therefore a violation of child labor laws. 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division have launched investigations into the incident, a spokesperson said. Any company found to be in violation could face a federal fine of more than $30,000 per incident.

The death was caused by equipment at the plant, Klem said, adding that the results of an autopsy will be released Wednesday.

Duvan Tomas Perez.
Duvan Tomas Perez.via Facebook

A worker who was on duty at the time of the accident spoke of hearing the boy screaming for help, but it was already too late. 

“Two times he began to scream, ‘Help! Help!’” the worker said.

“I knew he had died,” the worker added.

The victim, identified by local authorities and a family member as Duvan Tomas Perez, was a middle school student who arrived in this country from the town of Huispache about six years ago.

“We’re very sad,” said the relative, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they face a pending immigration issue. “He was generous, smiley and very fun and very responsible at work.”

Joe Colee, the manager of the Mar-Jac facility, said in a statement that “our employees are our most valuable asset and safety is our number one priority."

"We strive daily to work as safely as possible and are truly devastated whenever an employee is injured," he added.

Colee also acknowledged the OSHA investigation and said the company is cooperating fully.

“Any issues identified in the investigation will be corrected immediately," Colee said.

The incident marked the second time in two years a plant worker died from injuries sustained in an accident.

The Mar-Jac poultry plant in Hattiesburg, Miss.
The Mar-Jac poultry plant in Hattiesburg, Miss.Google maps

In May 2021, an employee was killed when he got pinned "partially under" a machine after it snagged his sleeve, according to OSHA records.

OSHA fined Mar-Jac $27,306, but the company contested it and the case remains ongoing.

Debbie Berkowitz, former OSHA official from the Obama administration, said the company has a "horrible safety record" and previously "fought to prevent OSHA from looking for safety violations after previous serious injuries."

An OSHA enforcement record from October 2021 notes that inspectors who went to the company’s Georgia location were unable to complete an inspection because they were denied entry.

Mar-Jac did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the 2021 death.

The latest incident comes as the Biden administration is cracking down on child labor violations involving migrants. 

NBC News reported last month that a federal investigation into Guatemalan children working in the U.S. in violation of child labor laws has expanded to include meatpacking and produce firms that have allegedly hired underage migrants in at least 11 states.