A collapse and fire at an Omaha plant has injured at least 10 people and killed at least two, officials said Monday afternoon. The explosion was reported at 10 a.m. Central Time at International Nutrition, which makes supplements for animals, reports The Guardian. At least 10 people were taken to hospitals in Omaha and Lincoln. Four were in critical condition. This incident highlights the need for tighter regulation and protection in the animal feed industry, and the dangers that are posed by such manufacturing plants.
The Omaha company has been fined at least twice before for safety violations, according to records of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which will be in charge of the investigation. The first citation came in August 2002, after a rotating part killed an employee who fell in a mixing tank. The second came in November 2011 after a safety inspection identified six “serious” violations.
“There was this real loud crackling sound and the lights went off,” one employee told the Omaha World-Herald on Monday. “I saw a spark and there was a big ball of flame coming from the southwest corner of the building.” The explosion knocked out the lights in the building and sent workers scrambling for safety. Following the huge blast, the second and third floors of the plant collapsed on top of the first floor as key structural supports failed. The collapse of the building hampered rescue attempts amid fears for the safety of firefighters, with at least one body remaining inside the wreckage of the building when the collapse occurred. The cause of the fatal explosion is now being investigated.
As we have discussed on the site before, animal feed plants can be extremely dangerous, due to the amount of airborne dust that is generated in the production process. Plants are similar to flour and grain installations, they have lots of bucket elevators, silos (internal and external), mixing, milling and tableting or pelletizing. They tend to be very dusty atmospheres, requiring regular cleaning to remain safe.
ATEX Explosion Hazards frequently have to install dust explosion protection using explosion venting. More recently, many are installing flameless vents and they are beginning to accept the need for explosion isolation in order to prevent propagation of the explosion flame from one vessel to the other via elevators and conveyors. Statistically they are the biggest contributor to dust explosion incidents competing for the top spot with the wood industry.
The grain handling industry, which includes feed plants, is considered “high hazard,” due partly to the risk of fires and explosions from the accumulation of combustible grain dust, according to the OSHA website. If you’re working in the animal feed or grain industry, we urge you to ensure that your explosion protection is up to date and appropriate for your work environment.