Employee killed at Pilgrim’s Pride Texas plant

Authorities have determined that the death of a 55-year-old man who was struck by a chunk of ice while working at a Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. chicken processing plant in Mount Pleasant, Texas, was an accident.

Pablo Lopez Romero was pronounced dead at the Titus Regional Medical Center about 1:10 p.m. Friday following the incident, said Sgt. Ray Barrett of the Mount Pleasant Police Department. Mount Pleasant is about a two-hour drive east of Dallas.

Romero was in a room used to make ice at the facility when ice cubes that had frozen together to form a large piece of ice fell on his neck and chest, Barrett said.

Efforts to resuscitate Romero at the plant were unsuccessful. Authorities determined in an autopsy that Romero died of blunt-force trauma.

Pilgrim’s Pride plans to cooperate fully with the investigation into the cause of the tragic incident and will work with the family to meet its immediate needs, the company said in a statement. While police have listed the employee’s last name as Romero, Pilgrim’s Pride has his last name as Lopez.

“We extend our deepest sympathies to Mr. Lopez’s family and friends,” the company said in an email statement. “Out of respect for Mr. Lopez and his family, the company will not provide further comment at this time.”

Greeley-based Pilgrim’s Pride (Nasdaq: PPC) employs about 35,700 people and operates chicken processing plants and prepared-food facilities in 12 states, Puerto Rico and Mexico. Greeley-based JBS USA, a subsidiary of Brazilian meatpacker JBS S.A., owns a controlling interest in Pilgrim’s Pride.

The incident in Texas follows the death of JBS employee Ralph Horner, 54, of Wellington on June 10 at the company’s Greeley beef processing plant. Horner suffocated after he accidentally became trapped in a conveyer, according to an autopsy report from the Weld County Coroner’s Office.

Media reports indicate that two other workers have died this year at facilities operated by JBS and Pilgrim’s Pride in North America.

In May, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined JBS $100,000 to settle safety and health violations at the company’s Greeley beef plant.

The settlement followed an inspection by OSHA in December 2012 that revealed potential for conditions that could lead to amputations and fall hazards in elevated work areas, among others. JBS said at the time it would work closely with federal officials to find remedies to ensure employees’ safety.

Pilgrim’s Pride also faces fines for safety violations at its De Queen, Ark., plant. The company was accused in July 2013 of exposing workers to hazardous chemicals, among other allegations. Pilgrim’s Pride has disputed the allegations.

The company said at the time that it took the allegations seriously, but added that no employees were injured as a result of the alleged conditions.