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OSHA: Fatal Work Site Explosion Was Preventable

Federal government safety investigators have blasted the administrators and managers of a Rockmart, Georgia feed mill operation that was the site of a fatal workplace explosion in February. OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) asserted that the plant was in violation of a number of simple safety standards that, if followed, would have likely prevented the explosion that killed one worker and seriously injured five others. dust1

According local news reports, federal inspectors investigating the work accident site, some 50 miles west of Atlanta, ascertained that it was an excessive accumulation of grain dust located in the hammer mill area of the mill that ignited and soon thereafter exploded. So significant was the damage to the feed mill’s interior and exterior, the building had to be shuttered. A 25-year-old male worker was killed.

OSHA launched its own investigation soon after the incident and issued dozens of citations – 23 in all – to the owner, JCG Farms, and its parent company, Koch Foods Inc. There was also a citation issued to the electrical services company that worked with the feed mill.

Combustible dust is an issue about which OSHA has spent a significant amount of time trying to raise awareness. And yet, companies like this either remain willfully ignorant or willfully in violation of the known processes and policies that keep workers safe.

The parent company employs approximately 14,000 workers across the country and is one of the top poultry producers nationally. Its headquarters is based in Chicago. The regional office is located in Atlanta, and the firm sometimes contracts with the electrical company to perform various work at the site.

Of the violations that were cited in this case:

  • 15 of the violations were for serious offenses;
  • 5 were other-than-serious health violations.

Primarily, the problem was that there was an excessive build-up of dust. OSHA blames the employer for failure to provide a workplace free of known hazards that are recognized as a risk in causing death or serious physical harm to employees. Additionally, workers weren’t warned of the potential for danger. There were no signs that gave them any kind of notice about the risk they faced from the build-up of dust. The company also failed to make workers aware of the dangers of working in confined spaces, and there was no established plan for what workers were to do in the event of a safety emergency. Also, the employer routinely let it slide that workers left the conveyor covers off. This is what contributed to the accumulation of combustible dust on the floors, the walls, and the machines.

The result was that workers were put at serious risk of explosion and fire hazards that would (and ultimately did) cause severe burns and/or death. They were essentially working in a ticking time-bomb.

OSHA’s Fact Sheet on Combustible Dust explains that between 1980 and 2005, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board identified more than 280 combustible dust incidents that resulted in the deaths of 119 workers and the severe injury of nearly 720. It’s also been cited in a number of cases where buildings were severely damaged.

It is important that employers and workers educate themselves on the possible risks because combustible dust can form as a byproduct of materials we don’t generally think of as combustible, such as:

  • Feed
  • Flour
  • Starch
  • Candy
  • Spice
  • Sugar
  • Grain
  • Tobacco
  • Plastics
  • Wood Pulp
  • Paper
  • Rubber
  • Plastics
  • Pesticides
  • Dyes
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Coals
  • Metals

If you have been injured at work in a combustible dust accident, we can help you or your loved ones obtain the support and compensation you deserve.

For information on Atlanta work injury compensation, contact J. Franklin Burns, P.C., at 1-404-303-7770.

Additional Resources:

OSHA: Fatal Rockmart plant explosion ‘could have been prevented’ , Aug. 2, 2016, Staff Report, WXIA

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Georgia Contractor to Pay $130k for 7th Fall Protection Violation, July 25, 2016, Atlanta Workers’ Compensation Attorney Blog