According to a Friday Occupational Safety and Health Administration press release, the deaths of six poultry plant workers due to liquid nitrogen exposure were preventable. The U.S. Department of Labor cited four companies following its January investigation into the incident.
The press release explained that the release of colorless, odorless liquid nitrogen which displaced oxygen causing the deaths occurred because a freezer malfunctioned. The workers were reportedly not trained on precautions for nitrogen exposure. OSHA said that “three maintenance workers and two other workers died immediately, a sixth died on the way to the hospital. At least a dozen other injured workers needed hospital care.”
The DOL determined through its investigation that Foundation Food Group Inc. and Messer LLC did not implement the proper safety procedures which could have prevented the leak or give information and equipment to the workers which could have saved them. Packers Sanitation Services Inc. Ltd. and FS Group Inc. also received citations and reportedly had some responsibility for the event. The DOL’s investigation led to 59 violations and $998,637 in penalties from OSHA.
“Six people’s deaths, and injuries suffered by at least a dozen others, were entirely avoidable,” U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said in the press release. “The Department of Labor is dedicated to upholding the law and using everything in our power to get justice for the workers’ families. The bottom line is no one should leave for work wondering if they’ll return home at the end of the day, and the Department of Labor is committed to holding bad actors accountable.”
Foundation Food Group, which runs the poultry plant, faces the largest portion of the fine, $595,474, and was cited for 26 violations 6 of which were determined to be willful violations. These violations included failure to train or inform employees about the use of liquid nitrogen or emergency procedures and not providing multiple unobstructed exit paths and illuminated exit signs.
Messer LLC, the company which delivered the gas, received six violations and a smaller fine for similar inactions and for not sharing lockout procedures, Packers Sanitation Services received the second largest fine of $286,720 and 19 violations for not training workers or ensuring that eye washes were available, among other violations similar to those against Foundation Food Group. FS Group, which provides and services equipment for the plant, also received violations for not training employees on liquid nitrogen and developing lockout procedures. FS Group received the smallest fine of the four companies.
“This horrible tragedy could have been prevented had the employers taken the time to use – and teach their workers the importance of – safety precautions,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Kurt Petermeyer. “Instead, six workers died as a result of their employers’ failure to follow necessary procedures and to comply with required safety and health standards. We hope other industry employers learn from this terrible incident and comply with safety and health requirements to prevent similar incidents.”
Each of the four companies needs to comply with the penalties or contest them within 15 business days.
Also last week, Walsh filed a petition in an effort to enforce OSHA subpoenas against Foundation Food Group and some of its managers related to the incident at the plant. The Georgia Northern District granted a motion to expedite the procedure on Wednesday.