GULFPORT — An Omega Protein employee, who had been trying to unionize workers because of what he perceived as an unsafe work environment at the Moss Point plant, was dragged into a conveyer in April 2012 and bled to death, according to a wrongful death lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court by the man’s mother.

Cynthia Hebert is suing Omega Protein, ACE American Insurance Co. and ESIS Inc. seeking compensatory and punitive damages for wrongful death, pain and suffering, negligence and breach of contract in the death of her son Christopher Allen Hebert. David Harris Jr. of Corban Gunn Van Cleave Law Firm in Biloxi is representing her.

Christopher Hebert died April 9, 2012, at Omega Protein’s Moss Point fish-processing plant on Elder Ferry Road, which produces omega-3 fish oil and specialty fish-meal products. He had worked at the plant about three years. In the years leading up to his death, the suit alleges, his attempts to unionize employees were met with “harsh resistance” from management.

In the suit, his mother claims Omega “engaged in intentional conduct designed to bring about injury, or death, to Christopher.”

No action on reports

Christopher Hebert worked in the maintenance department and reported to supervisors what he believed to be unsafe and dangerous working conditions, but management took no action, the suit says.

Shortly after arriving at work April 9, 2012, he was directed by a supervisor to “weld the seams of a newly installed hopper that released fish products into a single screw conveyor at its base.” The supervisor also assigned a safety watchperson.

“This new ‘safety’ watchperson was not the same watchperson Christopher partnered with normally,” the complaint says. “At the time Christopher began his work, the single screw conveyor equipment remained energized and operational,” but Christopher Hebert was unaware the equipment was on.

‘I’m dead!’

“While Christopher was inside the single screw conveyor, his safety watchperson left without notifying Christopher,” according to the complaint, and another employee was directed to turn on the conveyer.

The complaint says Hebert “was dragged into the machinery feet first. Christopher began screaming for help as the machine dragged him in. Other employees heard Christopher’s screams and arrived at Christopher’s location. Christopher’s last words were ‘I’m dead!'” An autopsy showed Hebert died of massive blood loss.

The complaint also alleges Omega Protein “intentionally chose not to have lockout equipment and safety rules” for the conveyer that killed Christopher Hebert. It claims ACE and ESIS, Omega Protein’s workers’ compensation insurers, failed to inspect the plant and implement machinery-safety rules.

OSHA fines proposed

In September, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration released its findings from an inspection of the plant after the accident and proposed $ 79,200 in fines for 25 safety and health violations. The inspection found 21 serious violations, including the failure to have workers affix personal lockout devices to a group lockout device. Lockout devices prevent switches and valves from being turned on inadvertently.

OSHA defines a serious violation as one with a substantial probability death or serious injury can occur from a hazard the employer knew or should have known about. OSHA also found four less-serious violations.