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Vol. 78/No. 4      February 3, 2014

Profits before life and limb:
two killed in Omaha plant
(lead article)
OMAHA, Neb. — Keith Everett, 53, and David Ball, 47, were killed while working in an animal feed plant here that collapsed after a large explosion. The owners of International Nutrition have declined to comment on what caused the collapse on the morning of Jan. 20 or on the company’s history of disregard for workers’ safety.

There were 38 employees in the factory when the three-story building collapsed. Most were able to escape. Seventeen workers were reported injured, at least 10 of whom were hospitalized, four in critical condition. Firefighters rescued five who were trapped in the rubble.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” Joe Gale, 35, told the Militant. He worked at International Nutrition 12 years ago. Today he is employed at a plant that manufactures agricultural combines. “The place was not safe. There were a lot of things in the air that were not good for us to breathe.”

“You have to be fair on both sides. Go through the investigation,” said Phil Stewart, who works at a glass factory. “But money is always a factor.”

Erik Ocampo, a worker on the production line who was burned on his face and hands, told the Omaha World Herald he “thought something exploded and suddenly felt engulfed by flames.”

Nate Lewis, 21, told the of Lincoln that he saw fire, then debris falling from the third floor ceiling. “It was pitch black in there. I just had to feel my way to get out.”

Forklift driver Kendrick Houston, 38, and Jamar White, who was outside when he was struck with fire, tried to re-enter the building to find co-workers, but were turned away by heat and smoke, reported the Herald.

Grain dust is highly combustible in large concentrations and an explosion hazard if improperly handled. Scott Allen, spokesman for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, told the Herald that the agency’s investigation could take up to six months to complete.

In 2002, a 45-year-old worker was killed at the factory when he fell into a large running mixing tank he was cleaning, according to OSHA. The agency cited the company for five serious and four lesser violations and issued fines totaling $20,350. In negotiations that followed, some of the citations were wiped clean and fines reduced to $13,000.

In 2012, International Nutrition paid more than $10,000 to settle a half dozen OSHA citations, including for lack of required safety guards on machinery, hand-power tool protection and electrical system code violations.

“Workers want a safe workplace. We want to be able to go home safe at the end of the day,” said Jeff Kringle, who was sitting with a fellow truck driver at a fast-food restaurant near the plant looking out the window at the pile of twisted metal. “At the same time, we don’t want a bunch of things crammed down our throats in the name of safety. A truck driver can be fined thousands of dollars for just glancing at his cellphone. But companies like this can have people injured and killed and end up paying less.”

About six hours after the explosion and collapse at International Nutrition, two workers were killed and a third hospitalized in an explosion at Mid-American Steel and Wire factory in Madill, Okla. No information on the cause of the blast, which started in the plant furnace, has yet been released.
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