OSHA fines companies more than $160,000 in JJ’s explosion

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Six months after the deadly explosion at JJ's Restaurant on the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Mo., federal investigators hand down more than $160,000 in fines.

The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration -- or OSHA -- fined two companies for safety violations. It cites the drilling company, Heartland Midwest, and JJ's Restaurant. More specifically, OSHA points the finger at Heartland Midwest for causing the blast that killed one and injured more than a dozen others.

Officials at Heartland are angered by the citation and have vowed to fight the fines.

OSHA cited the company for multiple, willful safety violations, including failing to provide its own employees with a workplace free of recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious bodily harm. Heartland Midwest was also cited for:

  • failing to ensure that workers were qualified to operate a horizontal directional drill machine
  • failing to instruct workers on potential dangers of buried utility lines
  • failing to prevent a worker from smoking in the area of an uncontrolled natural gas release

The fine levied for the violations: $161,000.

Lawyers for Heartland said the violations are about paperwork and not substance. They also say that OSHA's claim the violations caused the explosion at JJ's is reckless.

"We will contest these violations with all the vigor possible," said Brad Russell, attorney for Heartland Midwest. "We will never give up fighting these violations. We are going to go to court and we are going to contest the proof that they claim they have, and we will not in any way voluntarily pay any of these citations."

JJ's Restaurant was cited for one violation: having a deficient emergency action plan. The fine for that totaled $2,000.

The attorney for JJ's, Steve Emerson, would only say they are going to meet with OSHA and hope to resolve the issue.

Now Missouri Gas and Energy was not cited in OSHA's report. That's because the Missouri Public Safety Commission has authority over MGE. Their report is expected to be completed and released next month.

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