Georgia chicken processing facility, its gas supplier and cleaners failed to implement safety procures that could have saved six lives

An accidental liquid nitrogen release at a chicken processing plant in Georgia, US, killed six workers and hospitalised at least a dozen others in January. Following an investigation, the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Osha) has now levied nearly $1 million (£725,000) in penalties against the facility’s owner, Food Foundation Group, industrial gas supplier Messer, cleaning services company Packers Sanitation, and equipment and maintenance supplier FS Group.

The incident was caused by a freezer malfunction and liquid nitrogen leak, displacing the room’s oxygen. An investigation by the US Chemical Safety Board found that a new conveyor belt system carrying chicken products into a liquid nitrogen bath had malfunctioned.

Osha concluded that Foundation and Messer failed to implement safety procedures that would have prevented the leak, or to equip workers with the knowledge and equipment that could have saved their lives. Foundation had not told workers about the asphyxiation hazard, performed a risk assessment for nitrogen exposure or labelled the freezer with appropriate hazard warnings, for example.

Overall, Osha has cited Foundation for 26 health and safety violations, with $595,474 in fines. Messer faces $74,118 in fines for six serious violations, while FS Group faces $42,325 in fines for eight serious violations. The agency has also raised 17 serious and two repeat violations against Packers Sanitation for its lack of worker training on the hazards of liquid nitrogen and anhydrous ammonia, and its failure to ensure emergency eye washes were available and unobstructed. Osha had cited Packers for similar violations in 2017 and 2018, and now the company faces more than $286,000 in penalties for the latest incident.

‘This horrible tragedy could have been prevented had the employers taken the time to use – and teach their workers the importance of – safety precautions,’ stated Osha’s regional administrator in Atlanta, Kurt Petermeyer. ‘We hope other industry employers learn from this terrible incident and comply with safety and health requirements to prevent similar incidents,’ he added.