For the second time in five years, a worker at the Sea Watch International seafood processing plant in New Bedford has died after getting caught in machinery, according to the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health.
William Couto, 63 of Acushnet, was injured Jan. 2 after his clothing was entangled in a running motor, and he died Jan. 6, according to the social services organization, known as MassCOSH. The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration opened an investigation the day of the accident.
In January 2014, Victor Gerena was killed at the same plant while he was cleaning a shellfish-shucking machine and his clothes were caught in a rotating shaft.
OSHA cited Sea Watch for 11 violations after Gerena’s death, six of them considered serious, including failing to implement procedures that protect workers cleaning machinery, and fined the company $26,615. (The initial violations and fines were reduced during the settlement process.)
Workforce Unlimited, a Rhode Island temp agency that supplies workers to Sea Watch, was cited for five violations, two of them serious, with $5,130 in final penalties.
Worker advocates decried the penalties as a slap on the wrist.
Sea Watch International, part of a Maryland-based company of the same name that says it is the largest producer of clam products in the world, did not return calls seeking comment.
“Sea Watch International is a killer, plain and simple,” Jodi Sugerman-Brozan, executive director of MassCOSH, said in a statement. “The death of Victor rocked the immigrant communities that make up a majority of those who work in seafood processing in the state. The fact that William died in way almost identical to Victor means that Sea Watch sees these tragic losses as the cost of doing business while yet another family forever mourns the loss of a loved one who went to the plant to work and never came home.”
The majority of seafood processing workers in New England are immigrants employed by temp agencies, according to MassCOSH, and worker training on health and safety issues often falls through the cracks. After Gerena’s death, a local worker center that serves immigrants offered to create a safety committee for workers who spoke limited English, but the plant denied the offer, according to MassCOSH.
A year after Gerena was killed, the temp agency asked employees to sign waivers agreeing they would not sue Sea Watch if they were injured on the job, an initiative Workforce Unlimited said was ordered by Sea Watch.