GAINESVILLE, Ga., July 23, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — On the six-month anniversary of this country’s first fatal accident from liquid nitrogen, Foundation Food Group (FFG) remembers those family and friends who lost their life and others who were injured in this tragedy on January 28, 2021. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has marked this date by issuing citations that, unfortunately, do not directly address the cause of the liquid nitrogen leak.
“I personally know the loss all too well having lost my stepson that day. I know everyone at FFG mourns the loss we all suffered that day and offers prayers to friends, family and the community as we continue to heal” said BJ Svajgl, Sr. VP of operations. Tragically, the fatal accident occurred when the liquid nitrogen freezer rapidly released large amounts of the gas.
The nitrogen release that OSHA was meant to investigate these last six months resulted from a new immersion freezer. FFG chose to lease the freezer and all related equipment from Messer LLC, the largest privately held industrial gas business in the world. As the experts in this field, FFG relied on Messer to correctly install and set-up the liquid nitrogen operations at FFG. Test runs for the new immersion freezer began only six weeks before the accident. At the time of the accident, Messer was still on-site making adjustments to the freezer and had not turned the freezer over to FFG for full operation.
What the accident investigation has revealed is that the immersion freezer had a single safety device that measured the level of liquid nitrogen. The device, a bubbler tube, was bent such that it could not properly measure the level of liquid nitrogen or shut off the supply if the level was too high. There remains insufficient evidence to know how the tube was bent or why the drawings show the tube mounted with two mounts while only one was present. Similarly, the freezer’s design did not protect the tube in any way to ensure it would not be bent or otherwise damaged despite the tube being the sole safety device to prevent a catastrophic overflow of liquid nitrogen. OSHA’s investigation, conclusions and citations do nothing to address this nor would any of these prevent the same accident from occurring.
Immediately following the release of the liquid nitrogen from the immersion freezer, the fire alarm was pulled, all employees were evacuated, and 911 was called. There were no injuries or other problems noted during the evacuation. Employees knew where to go because FFG had provided training and conducted evacuation drills in the past.
Despite OSHA’s headline declaring that the accident was preventable, OSHA did not issue a single citation that addresses the bent tube or that will otherwise prevent another release of liquid nitrogen from the many liquid nitrogen freezers used across the country in ice cream shops to meat processing facilities, said Dane Steffenson, an attorney with DANE LAW LLC who represented OSHA for nearly 18 years and now represents FFG along with Larry Stine of Wimberly, Lawson, Steckel, Schneider & Stine, P.C.
FFG takes safety seriously and deeply regrets the accident. “We are always looking for ways to make the workplace safer and will never cease to make improvements to our procedures” said FFG safety manager, Ryan Cook. Contrary to some reports, FFG took immediate action and continued to assist local, state, and federal authorities in carrying out their inspection duties, while also caring for its team members. FFG hired former OSHA manager, Bud Underwood, to ensure its safety programs and procedures met or exceeded OSHA’s standards. FFG also went to great lengths to care for its team members following the catastrophe to include on site grief counselors, off-site grief counselors available by phone 24/7, ensured employees knew how to access medical care and make workman’s compensation claims, where appropriate-instituted a flexible leave policy, placed employees who wished to stay busy and not take any time off in other facilities and much more.
FFG is a family of employees and stakeholders that value each other in the pursuit of providing necessary poultry products. This family is evidenced by the return of a core group of long-term employees at this facility that brought the plant back online as soon as physically possible when so many thought it would not. We thank and appreciate these FFG employee family members and will continue to support them with the best working conditions available.
FFG will challenge those aspects of the OSHA citations which it believes to be unjustified and unsupported by the facts. FFG will also continue working with the remaining parties, including the United States’ Chemical Safety Board, to ensure the root cause is clarified, rectified and that employees are protected in the workplace.
For more information, please contact Foundation Food Group, Inc., 2093 Industrial Dr., Gainesville, GA 30504 For additional media inquiries, please email: [email protected]
Contact: Paula Williams
SOURCE Foundation Food Group