ConAgra explosion could spur new safety laws

By Tom Johnston on 2/9/2010
The U.S. Chemical and Safety Board said late last week it will urge changes to national fuel gas codes to prevent explosions similar to the one that killed four workers at a ConAgra plant in Garner, N.C., last summer.

CSB made the announcement at a public meeting held in Raleigh, N.C., Thursday night as the board disclosed findings from an ongoing federal probe into the June 9, 2009, natural gas explosion at the Slim Jim plant.

Preliminary findings, the board said, show that the explosion resulted from the accumulation of natural gas while workers were venting air indoors — an act it called "a recipe for disaster" — from a new 120-foot-long pipe in order to light a new water heater. In the process, natural gas periodically vented into a utility room for more than two hours and eventually ignited, causing the explosion.

"The board is very concerned that companies across the country continue to purge pipes indoors," CSB Chairman John Bresland said in a news release.

"At ConAgra, we determined the accident would not have happened had the gas been vented safely outdoors through a hose or pipe," added CSB investigations supervisor Donald Holmstrom.

The board voted to urge the National Fire Protection Association, the American Gas Association and the International Code Council to require gases to be vented outdoors and the use of combustible-gas detectors during purging procedures.

Since the accident, ConAgra has implemented strict policies requiring purging to be done outdoors, said Holmstrom.

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