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ConAgra agrees to fine for violations at Garner plant

The company and state agreed that ConAgra would pay $106,440 and make changes to its policies in light of a June explosion that killed four.

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ConAgra Foods plant, Slim Jim plant in Garner
RALEIGH, N.C. — ConAgra Foods Inc. agreed to a fine Monday for its role in a June explosion that killed four people.

A June 9 explosion ripped through ConAgra’s Garner plant, which makes Slim Jim beef jerky products. Federal investigators said they believe contractors installing a water heater vented natural gas inside the building, leading to the blast.

The state Department of Labor found 27 workplace safety violations at the ConAgra plant and last month ordered the company to pay $134,773. State regulators and ConAgra negotiated a settlement in which the company will pay $106,440, a 21 percent reduction, and make certain policy and procedural changes, including addressing potential safety issues with contractors before work begins.

ConAgra employees Barbara McLean Spears, Rachel Mae Poston Pulley and Louis Junior Watson died when part of the building’s roof collapsed. Dozens of workers and contractors were injured.

Curtis Ray Poppe, who worked for contractor Energy System Analysts, died in November after spending months at the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center at UNC Hospitals.

Energy System Analysts was ordered to pay $58,100 for 28 safety violations. That case is still pending.

The state noted the plant had an inadequate emergency alarm system at the time of the blast and that employees lacked adequate training for work with hazardous chemicals.

The company also didn't notify outside contractors about hazards in the plant, such as ammonia lines, according to the citations.

Inspectors said an Energy System Analysts worker opened a gas supply line 10 times on the morning of the explosion, allowing some natural gas to escape into a room filled with electrical equipment. The worker should have purged the line each time, according to the citation.

The contractor also hadn't trained its foreman on handling gas and propane, according to the citation.

The Labor Department also investigated 15 other contractors who had workers at the ConAgra plant on the day of the explosion, but no safety violations were noted against any of them, officials said.

ConAgra reopened the plant in August, but because of its diminished production capacity, laid off 300 workers in November.

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