Processing Magazine

Safety board rejects Slim Jim investigators'' urgent recommendations

September 15, 2009
According to the Associated Press, federal safety officials have rejected a series of urgent recommendations that investigators offered after an explosion at a Slim Jim factory in North Carolina killed three people. Documents obtained by The Associated Press show that staff members of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board wanted the agency to immediately distribute a safety bulletin and recommendations, saying the June blast exposed weaknesses in nationwide standards. The staff proposed guidelines that would require more controls on how workers handle gas-line purges. Two of the four board members voted down the idea last month, saying code writers should be the ones to decide on new guidelines, not the safety board. Investigators believe contractors installing a water heater vented natural gas inside the building, leading to the blast. The contractor, Energy Systems Analysts, reported that it was common practice, and investigators said the room was ventilated by an exhaust fan. Current safety codes, developed by a committee convened by the National Fire Protection Association and the American Gas Association, says gas purges "shall not be discharged into confined spaces or areas where there are sources of ignition unless precautions are taken." Investigators determined that the codes needed more specifics, according to the report from August. They recommended new guidelines require that, wherever practical, gases be purged to a safe location outdoors. If that''s not possible, they suggested evacuating nonessential personnel, establishing adequate ventilation and controlling ignition sources. Staff also said workers should use gas detectors to monitor conditions. The explosion that rocked ConAgra Foods Inc.''s plant for Slim Jims south of Raleigh killed three, critically injured four and sent dozens of others to the hospital. More than 200 people were working in the building when the explosion happened and part of the facility''s roof collapsed. The United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents several hundred workers at the site in Garner, blasted the decision. Staff members said the agency was already working with code writers on the state, national and international level and that the groups recognized the need to update their guidelines. The full investigation into the incident isn''t expected to finish until next year.