OSHA issues $1 million in fines, says six deaths were preventable in 2021 poultry plant chemical leak
The incident, which also injured 12 people, occurred at the Foundation Food Group plant where a freezer malfunctioned and caused colourless, odourless liquid nitrogen to displace oxygen.
On January 28, 2021, six workers went to work at a Gainesville poultry processing facility unaware that they would not return home. Just after their shift began, a freezer at the plant malfunctioned, releasing colorless, odorless liquid nitrogen into the plant’s air, displacing the oxygen in the room.
Three of the plant’s maintenance workers entered the freezer room without precautions – never trained on the deadly effects of nitrogen exposure – and were overcome immediately. Other workers entered the room and were also overcome. The 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.
“Six people’s deaths, and injuries suffered by at least a dozen others, were entirely avoidable,” said U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh.
“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.”
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigated the incident, and found that Foundation Food Group Inc. and Messer LLC of Bridgewater, New Jersey, 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.
OSHA cited Foundation Food Group, Messer LLC, Packers Sanitation Services Inc. Ltd. of Kieler, Wisconsin; and FS Group Inc. of Albertville, Alabama – all responsible for operations at the Gainesville facility – for a total of 59 violations and proposed $998,637 in penalties. ■