$1 Million in Fines Proposed Over Nitrogen Leak That Killed 6 at Poultry Plant

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Federal officials projected the fines against 4 companies aft uncovering that they could person prevented the deaths astatine the Foundation Food Group works successful Gainesville, Ga., successful January.

Six workers astatine  a Foundation Food Group poultry works  successful  Georgia were killed successful  January aft  a freezer malfunctioned and spewed liquid nitrogen.
Credit...Nicole Craine for The New York Times

July 23, 2021, 6:14 p.m. ET

Federal workplace information officials person projected astir $1 cardinal successful fines against 4 companies aft uncovering that they could person prevented the deaths of six workers from a liquid nitrogen leak astatine a poultry works successful Gainesville, Ga., successful January.

Foundation Food Group, a Gainesville-based poultry processing company, arsenic good arsenic Messer, of Bridgewater, N.J., an concern state institution that installed the liquid nitrogen freezer strategy astatine the plant, “failed to instrumentality immoderate of the information procedures indispensable to forestall the nitrogen leak, oregon to equip workers responding to it with the cognition and instrumentality that could person saved their lives,” the Occupational Safety and Health Administration said successful a statement connected Friday.

The bureau cited the 2 companies arsenic good arsenic Packers Sanitation Services, of Kieler, Wis., which provided cleaning and sanitation services astatine the plant, and FSGroup, of Albertville, Ala., which manufactures instrumentality and provides mechanical servicing, for a full 59 violations and projected that they wage a full of $998,637 successful penalties.

Foundation Food Group would wage the largest sum, $595,474, aft it was cited for 26 violations, including six willful violations for exposing workers to thermal injuries and suffocation hazards resulting from the uncontrolled merchandise of the liquid nitrogen. Packers Sanitation Services faces the next-largest fine, $286,720.

The projected penalties came aft a freezer astatine the Foundation Food Group works malfunctioned connected Jan. 28, releasing colorless, odorless liquid nitrogen into the aerial that displaced the oxygen successful the room, the bureau said.

Three of the plant’s attraction workers, who had ne'er been trained connected the deadly effects of nitrogen exposure, entered the freezer and were instantly overcome, the bureau said. All 3 died immediately.

Other workers entered the country and were besides overcome. Two of those workers died immediately, and the sixth died connected the mode to the hospital. At slightest a twelve others were injured, the bureau said.

The Hall County Sheriff’s Office identified the six workers who died arsenic Jose DeJesus Elias-Cabrera, 45; Corey Alan Murphy, 35; Nelly Perez-Rafael, 28; Saulo Suarez-Bernal, 41; Victor Vellez, 38; and Edgar Vera-Garcia, 28.

Their deaths opened a heavy good of symptom and grief successful Gainesville, the self-proclaimed chickenhearted superior of the world. The metropolis of 43,000 is astir 40 percent Latino.

“Six people’s deaths, and injuries suffered by astatine slightest a twelve others, were wholly avoidable,” Martin J. Walsh, the caput of labor, said successful a statement. “The bottommost enactment is nary 1 should permission for enactment wondering if they’ll instrumentality location astatine the extremity of the day, and the Department of Labor is committed to holding atrocious actors accountable.”

Shelly Anand, a lawyer who represents immoderate of the workers who were astatine the works during the nitrogen leak, said the penalties “feel truly minuscule and insignificant” lone due to the fact that the fines that OSHA tin levy are capped.

“Overall, OSHA did everything they person the ineligible capableness to do,” she said. “We request Congress to enactment and fto penalties beryllium higher for willful violations.”

The companies person 15 concern days from receipt of their citations and penalties to comply, petition an informal league with the agency’s country director, oregon contention the findings earlier an autarkic Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Foundation Food Group did not instantly respond to messages connected Friday. A pistillate who answered the telephone astatine FSGroup said that nary 1 was disposable to comment.

Packers Sanitation Services said its employees were not astatine the works astatine the clip of the leak and “were successful nary mode progressive with this tragic incident.”

“We are besides not progressive successful the cognition oregon mechanical attraction of this equipment,” the institution said. “While we cooperated with OSHA during the review, we fundamentally disagree with these citations and program to contention them.”

Messer, which has 70 accumulation facilities and astir 5,400 employees successful North and South America, said it was reviewing the citations and “had nary further remark astir them astatine this time.”

The institution said it had cooperated with national investigators and was “committed to learning from the investigations into this tragic incidental and doing its portion to forestall it from happening again.”

When installing cryogenic freezer equipment, Messer said, it works with customers connected however to safely run and support the equipment, arsenic good arsenic however to hole the instrumentality for sanitation.

Messer said that customers were liable for operating and maintaining cryogenic freezer instrumentality aft installation, but it tin supply method support.

Messer said that it besides recommended information precautions to power nitrogen hazards, including the usage of atmospheric monitoring and idiosyncratic oxygen detectors for employees who enactment with nitrogen indoors.

The institution added that due to the fact that of wrongful-death and idiosyncratic wounded lawsuits that person been filed against it, “we are incapable to remark further astatine this time, but are committed to each probe and our shared extremity of discerning the origin of this tragic accident.”

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