Investigators in Atlanta, Georgia, are trying to determine what triggered a liquid nitrogen line to burst inside a Hall County chicken processing plant in Gainesville, Georgia in January, killing six people and injuring at least a dozen others. Three of the dozen injured employees were in critical condition, and several more, including firefighters, were wounded after breathing in liquid nitrogen fumes at the site.
Company officials stated that 130 employees were evacuated from the plant, while Federal safety and crime scene investigators from Hall County were at the chicken processing plant, trying to determine what caused the accident. Jameel Fareed, an employee at the plant, told a Channel Two reporter that he worked in the area where the liquid nitrogen started to leak into the air. He thought at first something was wrong with the freezer but then noticed the fog, and then employees rushed to evacuate.
Healthcare workers at Northeast Georgia Medical Center stated that things could have been wrong and expected many injured workers. Although COVID-19 patient numbers at the hospital have recently fallen in January, healthcare staff were concerned about space and hospital bed availability for the wounded. Northeast Georgia Medical Center's Sean Couch, stated that those transported to the hospital were treated. Their injuries were likely the result of inhaling liquid nitrogen fumes, which can cause significant burns and respiratory issues. According to Mr. Couch, three of the wounded were admitted into critical care.
Past OSHA Violations at the Plant
According to Channel Two investigative reporter Nicole Carr, the processing plant (previously known as Prime Pak Foods) had recently merged with the Foundation Food Group, and had been the subject of three OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) investigations since 2017. One violation involved a violation for employee face and eye protection, resulting in a $4,000 fine in 2019.
Another violation centered around two serious incidents resulting in employee amputations. One employee lost two fingers in 2017 while trying to clear a machine jam, resulting in a $12,000 settlement. OSHA also fined the company $25,000 for a repeat offense the same year when an employee lost four fingers as he tried to guide meat through a mixer. OSHA stated that both incidents were violations of general machinery regulations.
Although the cause behind the plant’s deadly leak has yet to be determined, it is clear that the accident caused loss of life and employee injuries. If the cause was due to negligence on the part of Foundation Food Group, the injured employees and the families of those who perished in the accident could seek legal action and compensation for loss of life, injury, and medical and legal fees.
Legal Options for Injured Workers
Employees have the right to work in a safe environment, and this applies whether or not you are working in a factory, construction site, or in an office building. Employers are legally required to provide safe work environments and conditions by various labor and worker protection laws and OSHA guidelines. Unfortunately, unsafe working conditions do happen. In most states, employees can file for worker's compensation if they suffer from a work-related injury and can resolve claims with their employers. However, in some cases, it may be necessary to explore lawsuit options that can allow for damages or injury stemming from unsafe working conditions.
Although workers' compensation benefits injured workers in many situations and conditions where work injury can occur, the types of compensation of damages provided under workers’ compensation laws are not as comprehensive as they are under a personal injury lawsuit. For example, suppose you have suffered a work injury because of employer negligence or unsafe working conditions. In that case, you may want to explore other options for recovering damages such as injury, loss of income, and medical bills.
Know Your Rights
An attorney can offer assistance in exploring compensation aside from workers' compensation in many cases. Although workers' compensation laws restrict certain conditions when an employer can be sued, an attorney can help you navigate other options to make a personal claim. An example will be if a third-party is involved, such as a contractor site manager, who is not your direct employer. In this case, a workers' compensation attorney may process a personal injury claim against that third party. If you have questions or have been injured on the job, consult an attorney regarding your rights and legal options.