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July 28, 2021
OSHA seeks $1 million after poultry factory deaths

On July 23, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced it is seeking nearly $1 million in penalties from 4 employers at a poultry processing facility where 6 workers died from nitrogen exposure caused by a malfunctioning freezer. After a shift began on January 28 at a Gainesville, Georgia, poultry processing facility, a freezer at the plant malfunctioned, releasing colorless, odorless liquid nitrogen into the plant’s air, displacing the oxygen in the room, according to the agency.

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OSHA reported that three of the plant’s maintenance workers, never trained on the deadly effects of nitrogen exposure, entered the freezer room without precautions. They were overcome immediately. Other workers entered the room and also were overcome. The three maintenance workers and two of the other workers died immediately; the sixth worker died on the way to the hospital. At least a dozen other injured workers needed hospital care, according to the agency.

The agency cited the four employers—Foundation Food Group Inc. and Messer LLC of Bridgewater, New Jersey; Packers Sanitation Services Inc. Ltd. of Kieler, Wisconsin; and FS Group Inc. of Albertville, Alabama—with a total of 59 violations and proposed $998,637 in penalties.

Foundation Food Group and Messer LLC failed to implement any of the safety procedures necessary to prevent the nitrogen leak or to equip workers responding to it with the knowledge and equipment that could have saved their lives, according to the agency.

OSHA cited Foundation Food Group Inc. with 26 violations, with penalties totaling $595,474, including 6 willful violations for exposing workers to thermal injuries and suffocation hazards resulting from the uncontrolled release of liquid nitrogen; failing to develop, document, and use lockout procedures; not informing employees that liquid nitrogen, an asphyxiate, was used in the on-site freezer; not training employees on the methods and observations used to detect the presence or release of nitrogen; failing to train workers on the hazards of liquid nitrogen; and not training employees on the emergency procedures they can take to protect themselves. The agency concluded that Foundation Food Group also failed to:

  • Provide workers with access to the safety data sheet on liquid nitrogen or label the freezers properly with hazard warnings.
  • Perform a hazard assessment for exposure to liquid nitrogen.
  • Implement a permit-required confined space program for workers who entered the liquid nitrogen freezer, and notify contractors required to work inside the liquid nitrogen freezer that it was a permit-required confined space.
  • Make sure multiple egress paths in the facility were free from obstruction.
  • Illuminate exit signs, provide adequate lighting for exit routes, and ensure exit access was at least 28 inches wide.

Messer LLC, which delivered the industrial gas, was cited with 6 serious violations and faces $74,118 in penalties. OSHA investigators determined that Messer exposed workers to injuries and suffocation from the uncontrolled release of liquid nitrogen; failed to ensure an egress path was unobstructed; and did not develop, document, and use lockout procedures or ensure lockout procedures were shared between the host employer and other contractors.

Packers Sanitation Services Inc. Ltd., which provided cleaning and sanitation services at the facility, was cited with 17 serious and 2 repeat violations and faces $286,720 in penalties for failing to train workers on the hazards of liquid nitrogen and anhydrous ammonia and not ensuring emergency eye washes were available and unobstructed. The agency cited the employer in 2017 and 2018 for similar violations.

OSHA found that Packers Sanitation also failed to:

  • Train workers on the emergency procedures related to liquid nitrogen and anhydrous ammonia, and provide workers with access to the data sheet on liquid nitrogen.
  • Ensure egress paths were unobstructed.
  • Ensure exit signs were illuminated, and provide adequate lighting for exit routes.
  • Implement a written permit space entry program.
  • Make sure that adequate lockout procedures were used.
  • Coordinate lockout procedures with Foundation Food Group.

FS Group Inc., which manufactures equipment and provides mechanical servicing, was cited for 8 serious violations and faces $42,325 in penalties for failing to train workers on the physical and health hazards of liquid nitrogen and emergency procedures related to liquid nitrogen. The company also failed to ensure the development and use of specific written lockout procedures and ensure that the host employer and contractors shared information on lockout procedures, according to the agency.

“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,” Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh said in an agency statement.

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