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OSHA makes ruling in nitrogen leak that killed 6 at Foundation Food Group
Six people were killed following a liquid nitrogen leak at Foundation Food Group in Gainesville on Thursday, authorities said. Five were found dead and another died at Northeast Georgia Medical Center, according to hospital spokesman Sean Couch. - photo by Scott Rogers

Foundation Food Group faces more than $500,000 in potential fines related to a Jan. 28 nitrogen leak that killed six people, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced, calling the deaths “entirely avoidable.”

OSHA on July 23 announced alleged violations against the Gainesville poultry processor and three other companies in the Jan. 28 incident. Six people were killed and 12 were hospitalized after the leak at the Memorial Park Drive plant. 

“Six people’s deaths, and injuries suffered by at least a dozen others, were entirely avoidable,” said U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh in a news release. 

This story continues below. It was originally published by our sister publication The Gainesville Times. 

OSHA announced alleged violations after its nearly six-month investigation into the leak, and the agency has cited Foundation Food Group, Messer LLC, Packers Sanitation Services Inc., and FS Group Inc. The 59 alleged violations could lead to close to $1 million total in penalties.

OSHA cited Foundation Food Group with 26 alleged violations that could lead to $595,474 in penalties.

According to information released by OSHA, a freezer at the Gainesville plant malfunctioned that released liquid nitrogen into the plant’s air and displaced the oxygen.

Three Foundation Food Group maintenance workers entered the freezer room “without precautions – never trained on the deadly effects of nitrogen exposure – and were overcome immediately,” according to OSHA.

“Other workers entered the room and were also overcome,” according to OSHA. “The three maintenance workers and two other workers died immediately, a sixth died on the way to the hospital. At least a dozen other injured workers needed hospital care.”

OSHA alleged that Foundation Food Group and Messer “failed to implement any of the safety procedures necessary to prevent the nitrogen leak, or to equip workers responding to it with the knowledge and equipment that could have saved their lives.”

Messer, the chemical company responsible for the industrial gas, was cited by OSHA on six violations totaling $74,118 in penalties, while the cleaning and sanitation provider, Packers Sanitation Services, faces 17 serious and two repeat violations that could result in $286,720 in penalties.

FS Group faces $42,325 in penalties for allegedly not training workers on the physical and health hazards of liquid nitrogen.

All four companies have 15 business days to respond to the citations, either by complying or contesting OSHA’s alleged violations.