Feed Plant Explosion: Combustible Dust May be to Blame
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) continues to investigate the possible causes of what may or may not have been a massive explosion at an International Nutrition animal feed processing plant in Omaha on Monday, Jan. 20. Whatever caused it, the result was a major collapse of a large portion of the plant. The accident resulted in the deaths of two workers – Keith Everett, 53 and David Ball, 47 – with 17 other workers injured, ten of whom were hospitalized.
OSHA investigators are looking into structural problems, as well as a possible buildup of combustible dust as two possible culprits, so they’re getting assistance from structural engineers and experts in combustible dust for insight. The International Nutrition plant manufactures nutritional additives that supplement feed for poultry and livestock.
While it was first reported as an explosion and fire, as time went on, that became less clear. Some witnesses have said they heard an explosion before the second and third floors of the plant collapsed onto the first floor, while a number of others claim that it as. But others have suggested that it as the collapse itself that created the explosive sound and fire, which burned some workers.
That’s why OSHA is looking at both possibilities. Most types of dust, such as that from chemicals, metals, wood and even food processing, can be combustible under the right circumstances, if it is ground finely enough. That could possibly include the material International Nutrition worked with, although it’s uncertain at this point in the investigation.
There were 38 workers in or around the building when the accident occurred. While most were able to escape, 10 workers were taken to hospitals, seven were injured but refused treatment, and the two who were killed became trapped in the rubble. Omaha firefighters were able to locate and remove Everett’s body from the remains of the building fairly quickly, but it took a specially trained urban search and rescue team eight hours to recover Ball’s body the next day. That was the first and only time OSHA investigators were able to enter the crumbled building, and they were able to take pictures and gather evidence. But they note that it will likely be weeks before they have an idea what caused the accident. And it could take longer, since Omaha officials declared the building unsafe to enter Wednesday, and OSHA investigators don’t know when they’ll be able to re-enter and continue the investigation. The agency has six months to complete their investigation.
Once the OSHA investigation is complete, there is a strong likelihood that the company will be discovered to be negligent with regard to inspecting their building to make sure it’s structurally sound, or for not performing proper housekeeping to limit buildup of combustible dust. If you or a loved one have suffered an injury or been killed working in an unsafe workplace, please contact the Texas Workplace Injury Lawyers at Hill Law Firm for a free consultation as soon as possible, in order to protect your rights.