Local News

ConAgra explosion to prompt safety recommendations

Posted January 14, 2010 4:11 p.m. EST

The roof of the ConAgra Foods Inc. plant in Garner collapsed on June 9, 2009, following a gas explosion. Three workers were killed in the blast, and a fourth person died of his injuries several months later.

— The U.S. Chemical Safety Board will hold a public meeting next month to present the findings of its investigation into the fatal ConAgra Foods plant explosion last June, officials said Thursday.

The CSB, an independent federal agency that investigates industrial chemical accidents, also will hear during the meeting from outside experts about how to safely purge natural gas lines. The meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Feb. 4 at the Raleigh Sheraton Hotel, at 421 S. Salisbury St. in Raleigh.

A June 9 explosion ripped through ConAgra’s Garner plant, which makes Slim Jim beef jerky products, killing three workers. An outside contractor who was seriously burned in the explosion died several months later.

Investigators with the CSB and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said last summer that, based on their initial investigation, contractors installing a water heater improperly vented natural gas inside the building, leading to the blast.

Following a public comment period, the CSB is expected to consider draft staff recommendations for changes to the National Fuel Gas Code, which establishes gas purging practices followed across the country.

“This was a serious accident which claimed the lives of four workers, injured scores of others and resulted in hundreds of job losses,” CSB Chairman John Bresland said in a statement. “The goal of the CSB investigation is to recommend measures that will help prevent other devastating accidents during gas purging operations.”

CSB investigators said they have identified similar gas purging accidents in recent years, including an explosion at a Michigan power plant in 1999 that killed six and caused $1 billion in property damage and an explosion in 2008 at a San Diego hotel that injured 14.

The state Department of Labor found 27 workplace safety violations at the ConAgra plant. The company agreed to pay a $106,440 fine and make certain policy and procedural changes, including addressing potential safety issues with contractors before work begins, to settle the case.

Inspectors also fined contractor Energy System Analysts $58,100 for 28 safety violations.

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