Officials open investigation into workplace death of Hattiesburg teen at Mar-Jac Poultry factory

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Federal, state and local agencies have opened investigations after a 16-year-old died while working at a Mississippi poultry plant.

The accident happened about 8 p.m. Friday at the Mar-Jac Poultr y processing facility in Hattiesburg, authorities said.

According to a news release from the company, an employee “conducting sanitation operations” died from injuries sustained in the accident. No other information regarding the incident was released.

In addition to the state Department of Labor, the U.S. Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Hattiesburg Police are investigating the death.

A woman who answered the telephone at the company’s headquarters in Gainseville, Georgia, said the company had no comment at this time because of the ongoing investigation. She would not give her name, saying she was not permitted to speak to press.

In the company’s news release, complex manager Joe Colee expressed condolences to the teen’s family and friends.

“Our employees are our most valuable asset, and safety is our No. 1 priority,” Colee said. “We strive daily to work as safely as possible and are truly devastated whenever an employee is injured.”

This is not the first fatal accident at the facility, news outlets reported. Mar-Jac Poultry has had three deaths, including the July incident, and one amputation in the past three years. OSHA previously cited the company in 2020 and 2021 for four safety violations in three separate incidents, totaling $52,355 in initial penalties. Those three incidents remain open.

Forrest County Deputy Coroner Lisa Klem said the teenager was a Hattiesburg resident, but declined to release his name since he was a minor. A cause of death is pending an autopsy.

Meanwhile, officials are looking into how the teen was able to work at the plant. Federal law prohibits minors from working at meat and poultry plants due to the Department of Labor declaring the types of jobs at such facilities as “particularly hazardous” or “detrimental to their health or well-being.”

“This child’s death was tragic and unconscionable,” PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman said in a statement Wednesday evening. Children don’t belong inside of slaughterhouses anymore than chickens do, she said.

The Fair Labor Standards Act specifically lists sanitation of meat and poultry plant equipment as a hazardous activity off limits to underage workers. It is unclear whether the work the teen was doing was deemed hazardous.

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