Federal officials are investigating the violent death of a man caught in machinery Thursday while working the night shift at a seafood processing plant in New Bedford.
Victor Gerena, 35, was cleaning a shellfish-shucking machine at Sea Watch International around 1:30 a.m. when he “became entangled in a rotary turbine engine,” according to the New Bedford police.
Police said in an e-mail that it took the fire department nearly an hour to free Gerena after partially dismantling the machine. He was pronounced dead at the scene and police are investigating. An autopsy was planned.
The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration sent an inspector to the plant on Antonio Costa Avenue Thursday morning to interview witnesses and gather information. The investigation is expected to take several weeks, said Ted Fitzgerald, spokesman for the agency.
“We’ll be gathering whatever information we can to find out what happened, what safety standards apply in connection with this machinery,” Fitzgerald said. “From that, we’ll determine whether or not the employer was in compliance with whatever the safety standards are.”
OSHA inspected the plant in 2011 and discovered several serious safety violations, including inadequate emergency training for employees dealing with hazardous waste and insufficient respiratory protection for some workers.
The company paid $4,675 in fines and fixed the violations. A follow-up inspection in April 2012 found the company was in full compliance with OSHA standards.
At Sea Watch on Friday, co-workers grieved the loss of a hard-working man they said had been with the company for 18 years.
“He was a great worker, friend and loved by many,” office manager Sandy Harbick said in tears. She said he “will be greatly missed.”
Harbick said the company could not comment on the investigation. According to the company’s website, Sea Watch International is based in Maryland and has been a major supplier of clams for more than 35 years.
Gerena’s death renewed concerns about workplace safety following the fatal choking last year of a bakery worker in Malden whose apron was caught in machinery. In December 2011, another worker died in Taunton after his hand was stuck in an industrial hummus grinder.
On Friday, the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, a nonprofit that advocates for workplace safety, demanded that all industries using large machinery ensure that they have the proper protections to prevent injuries and deaths.
“Because of the inherent dangers in working with machinery, OSHA has strict standards to ensure that workers remain safe on the job,” said MassCOSH Executive Director Marcy Goldstein-Gelb. “Any machine part, function, or process that can cause injury must be safeguarded to prevent events like the one that took the life of Victor Gerena.”
Since 2000, 22 workers have been crushed to death by machinery in Massachusetts, usually because of inadequate machine guards and other federally mandated safety measures, according to MassCOSH.