ConAgra cited in N.C. explosion

by Eric Schroeder
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RALEIGH, N.C. — The North Carolina Department of Labor on Dec. 1 issued 26 citations totaling $134,773 in fines to Omaha-based ConAgra Foods, Inc. The citations were related to a June explosion that killed four people at the company’s Slim Jim plant in Garner, N.C.

Most of the 26 citations were deemed "serious" by the D.O.L. In addition to ConAgra, the D.O.L. issued 28 citations totaling $58,100 to Energy Systems Analysts, Inc., a company hired to install a water heater at the Garner plant.

Providing more details into the explosion, the D.O.L. issued the following finding:

"On (June 9, 2009) at or about 9:45 a.m., a contractor was attempting to light the ‘Maxi-Miser’ on demand natural gas fired water heater in the presence of ConAgra management. This included the improper purging of new fuel supply pipe by removing the pressure gauge on the 3/8 inch pilot line and opening the supply valve for the first time in a series of three openings that allowed about 5 P.S.I. of pressurized air mixture containing natural gas to be released in an enclosed room that contained ignition sources, including unclassified electrical equipment such as motors and circuit panels."

The D.O.L. also cited ConAgra for failing to check or evaluate the subcontractor’s safety record before hiring it; failing to inform subcontractors that ammonia was being used in the facility’s air conditioning and refrigeration system, a potential hazard; and failing to provide a fire alarm signal or an intercom announcement that employees could hear before the explosion.

Responding to the citations, Stephanie Childs, a spokesperson for ConAgra, said, "Since the accident, we have worked closely and fully cooperated with the agency throughout its investigation. We are reviewing their comments and findings but cannot comment on them at this time. As appropriate, we will follow up with the agency on any possible next steps."

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