In June 2009, there was an explosion at a ConAgra Foods plant in Garner, North Carolina which sent 38 workers to local hospitals. Four were admitted in critical condition and the others were treated and released. Injuries were typical of an explosion — burns, bruises, cuts, broken bones – because the building collapsed. The four in critical condition were suffering from severe burns reportedly over half or more of their bodies and all subsequently died.
Extensive Investigation Conducted
This particular plant primarily makes Slim Jim beef jerky products. A lot of investigators and federal officials converged on the site shortly after the explosion, from ConAgra’s headquarters in Nebraska, the EPA, the State Division of Air Quality, the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the federal Chemical Safety Board, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ National Response Team and of course, local police.
Search-and-Rescue workers courageously crawled around in small and dangerous spaces looking for survivors and they worked around the clock until all workers were accounted for.
News helicopters circled around and some of their footage showed holes in the plant’s roof and eight cars crushed beneath a part of the building that been blown outwards. There was an ammonia leak and following its emergency plan, ConAgra emptied the ammonia pipes into a settling pond.
This plant had 350 employees present when the explosion occurred. It is 425,000 sq. ft. in size. It had last been inspected for safety by state and federal regulators in July 2008 and no problems had been found. In similar inspections during 2006 and 2007, regulators had found violations and in 2001, ConAgra had paid a small fine of $12,100 for a few violations. So it would seem that overall this was a safe plant to work at.
Natural Gas Leak Found
Investigators found that the explosion had been caused by a natural gas leak. It had been contained within the room which housed vacuum pumps for sealing the finished snacks. It was evidently ignited by an electrical component in part of that equipment, but since the room was destroyed, there is no way of pinpointing exactly which part. It was determined to have been an accidental explosion.
Now a lawsuit has been filed by about 24 of the plant’s workers accusing about twelve design, manufacturing, and installation companies of negligence. The suit also accuses the town of Garner of not properly overseeing installation of a commercial water heater which had been in progress at the time. However, this lawsuit does not include ConAgra Foods itself and neither did a suit filed in the summer of 2009.