Violations issued and fines handed down in JJ’s explosion

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The company that was drilling when its workers struck an underground 2-inch natural gas transmission pipeline, leading to the fatal explosion at JJ’s Restaurant on the Plaza in February, has been cited for multiple safety violations by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

While Heartland Midwest LLC, a communication utilities contracting company, was cited for multiple safety violations, JJ’s Bar and Grill, which does business as JJ’s Restaurant, was cited for one safety violation in the incident.

In its news release, OSHA said that Heartland Midwest LLC’s crew operated a horizontal directional drilling machine to lay a fiber-optic cable outside the restaurant when the boring tip of the drilling pipe breached the natural gas supply line.

OSHA conducted two investigations. A fatality investigation of JJ’s Bar and Grill was conducted after a worker died in the restaurant as a result of the explosion. OSHA also conducted a catastrophe investigation of Heartland Midwest LLC as three of the company’s workers were hospitalized for one or more days.

Heartland Midwest was cited for a willful violation of the General Duty Clause for failing to provide its own employees with a workplace free of recognized hazards that were likely to cause death or serious bodily harm. Employees were exposed to explosion, toxic chemical exposure and electrocution hazards while boring underground and crossing the paths of existing utilities. OSHA determined that this willful citation was a factor in the natural gas release, explosion and fire that resulted in the hospitalization of the three Heartland Midwest workers.

JJ’s Bar and Grill was cited for one serious violation, with proposed penalties of $2,000, for having a deficient emergency action plan. The plan did not designate and train workers to assist in a safe and orderly evacuation, nor did it have a procedure to account for and protect workers following an evacuation due to an emergency, such as an explosion or fire.

A willful violation is one committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for, or plain indifference to, employee safety and health.

As a result of the investigation, Heartland Midwest LLC faces proposed penalties of $161,000 and has been placed in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program.

Heartland Midwest was also cited for three serious violations including failing to ensure workers were qualified, through training or experience, to operate a horizontal directional drill machine and its related equipment; instruct workers in the recognition, avoidance and/or elimination of unsafe hazards of buried utility lines and/or pipelines; and prevent a worker from smoking in the vicinity of an uncontrolled natural gas release, following the breaching of a natural gas pipeline.

JJ’s Bar and Grill was cited for one serious violation, with proposed penalties of $2,000, for having a deficient emergency action plan. The plan did not designate and train workers to assist in a safe and orderly evacuation, nor did it have a procedure to account for and protect workers following an evacuation due to an emergency, such as an explosion or fire.

A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

Additionally, Heartland Midwest was also cited for a willful violation of an OSHA standard for failing to ensure that all crew members were equipped with footwear that protected them from the hazard of electrocution while boring in the vicinity of underground electrical power lines.

“This explosion was a tragic event that stemmed from errors on behalf of Heartland Midwest. Companies, such as Heartland Midwest, have a responsibility to train employees about the hazards that exist on work sites. It is heartbreaking that a person was killed, and numerous employees were severely injured as a result of these violations,” said Marcia Drumm, acting regional administrator for OSHA in Kansas City. “OSHA is committed to ensuring safe work practices to prevent endangering the safety and health of workers on the job.”

The current citations may be viewed at http://www.osha.gov/ooc/citations/Heartland_Midwest_LLC_894758_08_15_2013.pdf
http://www.osha.gov/ooc/citations/JJS_Bar_and_Grill_Inc_901455_08_15_2013.pdf

The gas line was owned and operated by Missouri Gas Energy. OSHA’s inspection was initially opened regarding MGE. However, it was determined that the Missouri Public Safety Commission executed jurisdictional authority over MGE. OSHA and MPSC collaborated during the inspection process. That collaboration included joint investigative activities and witness interviews. The MPSC initial report is expected to be completed and released in September.

Heartland Midwest LLC is a contracting company primarily involved in the installation and alteration of underground communication utilities, using standard excavation and trenching techniques, as well as underground directional boring methods. The company, which began operations in 2003, is headquartered in Olathe, Kan., with a second facility in Oklahoma. It employs approximately 120 workers, with 78 workers in its Olathe facility.

Information from U.S. Department of Labor News Release

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