The Ciudad Juarez Mexican candy factory that was the scene of a deadly explosion last Thursday has a troubled safety record and could face further sanctions, depending on the outcome of an investigation.
“We did a second walk through,” José Cutberto Medina Fernández said. Fernández is the head of the Chihuahua state office of Mexico’s Secretaria del del Trabajo y Previsión Social.
Dulcerias Blueberry has a history of safety violations that go back years before the candy factory went up in flames.
The agency that regulates workplace safety in Mexico has cited the company 17 times for safety violations since 2007, Cutberto Medina said.
A labor-safety official, who has been inside the factory and is familiar with the violations, said past problems include: no alarms to alert workers to an emergency, failure to post signs indicating evacuation routes and poorly-trained emergency-response teams.
The official asked not to be identified because the current investigation into the cause of explosion has not been completed.
The source said inspectors also found candy ingredients were stored improperly at the factory -- some were highly flammable.
The plant attracted the attention of the Social Security Hospital System’s work-safety division as well. The hospital insures workers are alerted when more than five employees at a workplace are injured.
In addition to injuries, two workers have died on the job in recent years. One was crushed by machine used to move cargo, another fell off the roof.
In 2012, the Social Security Hospital insured Mexican workers worked with factory staff to devise a compliance plan to correct health and safety violations; however, the adviser left in frustration when many of the recommendations were ignored.
The Secretaria del Trabajo, the agency that enforces safety standards, fined the company $117,000 pesos -- about $9000 -- but the company disputed the alleged violations and fines in court.
Duclerias Blueberry supplies El Paso-based Mount Franklin Foods with popular treats sold across the U.S., including Halloween favorite’s: candy corn, gummy bears and assorted hard candies. The company has not responded to repeated phone calls.
On the Mount Franklin Foods website, the company states it has “More than 500,000 square feet across two candy plants in Juarez, Mexico.”
The Dulcerias Blueberry factory in Ciudad Juarez employs about 1100 workers in three shifts.
“There was no safety, “ Rosario de la Torre Mesa, a mother of one of the workers, said.
De la Torre Mesa stood outside the factory for hours after the explosion, waiting for word about her 20-year-old son when she could not find him at the hospital.
De la Torre Mesa later learned her son's badly-burned body had been pulled from the rubble the day of the explosion. Miguel Angel de la Torre Mesa was married with two young children, aged one and two.
The fiery explosion killed four workers and injured more than 50. Six patients remain in intensive care with severe burns.