In June 2014, a 37-year-old worker at Agridyne's Pekin, Illinois facility climbed down into a rail car to clean out corn steep residue and was overcome by dangerous hydrogen sulfide gas. A 29-year-old tank inspector, who attempted to rescue the first worker, succumbed to the gas exposure as well. Neither worker made it out of the car alive.
The families of the two workers killed filed a wrongful death suit against the feed maker in October last year, claiming neither victim was equipped with adequate safety gear before they entered the car, reported the Pekin Daily Times.
Matthew Booker, an attorney with the law firm representing Agridyne, Brown Hay & Stephens, confirmed the liquid feed producer has filed a motion to dismiss the civil suit. "We are, however, unable to comment further due to the pendency of the litigation,” he said.
Meanwhile, January 2015 saw the outcome of the US Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigation into the tragedy.
The primary cause of death of both workers, said the federal agency, was closed space asphyxiation and hydrogen sulfide intoxication, a byproduct of the residual organic waste contained in the tank.
OSHA found neither employee was equipped with an emergency retrieval system before they entered the car. It cited Agridyne for three willful and eight serious safety violations arising out of the incident, and placed the company in its severe violator enforcement program.
A willful violation is one committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health. An OSHA violation is serious if death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard an employer knew or should have known exists.
The agency also proposed penalties totaling $266,000.
Scott Allen, regional director for public affairs at the US Department of Labor, told FeedNavigator that Agridyne has challenged all the citations. “The case has been referred to an independent occupational review commission, an administrative law judge. We do not have a timeline as to when the case will be heard yet,” he added.
Indeed, the feed company's attorney Booker, added: "Agridyne continues to disagree with OSHA’s findings and is taking all steps to contest those findings."
Thomas Bielema, OSHA's area director in Peoria, Illinois, said on conclusion of the agency’s probe into the deaths that permit-required confined spaces put workers in real and immediate danger.
“Atmospheric conditions must be tested and monitored before workers enter. The employer must also ensure that safety equipment, such as a retrieval line, is provided to employees and used. This was a terrible incident that was completely preventable,” he said.