On Jan. 28, a liquid nitrogen leak at a poultry processing plant in Gainesville, Ga. killed at least six workers while injuring another 12.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has been actively investigating the incident and is now also looking into reports of an ammonia release that occurred on March 11, 2021.
“OSHA is working methodically to complete its investigation and we want to hear from [employees] to ensure safe operations for all who work there,” said Acting Area Director Condell Eastmond in the Atlanta-East office, which has jurisdiction over the inspection.
Liquid Nitrogen Hazards
Liquid nitrogen can build up pressure if contained in a closed system without a pressure relief vessel.
This can lead to leaks and explosions — although no explosion was reported at the Gainesville plant.
In addition to pressure build-up and explosions, liquid nitrogen can also lead to these hazards:
- Extreme Cold: Liquid nitrogen vapor can burn skin by rapidly freezing tissue. It can also result in frostbite and permanent eye damage.
- Asphyxiation: Liquid nitrogen can displace oxygen in the air. It is odorless and colorless, which means that it’s difficult to identify a leak. If the liquid nitrogen reduces the oxygen percentage below 19.5 percent there is a risk of oxygen deficiency leading to unconsciousness and even asphyxiation.
- Oxygen Enrichment: When transferring liquid nitrogen, oxygen in the air surrounding a cryogen containment system can dissolve and create an oxygen-enriched environment. Since the boiling point of nitrogen is lower than oxygen, the liquid oxygen evaporates slower and may build up to levels that can increase the flammability of materials near the containment system. That’s why containment systems must be kept clear of combustible materials.
Following the liquid nitrogen leak, fire services in Gainesville were called out to the plant on March 11 regarding a potential ammonia leak that authorities said was due to a refrigerant service called that day.
Ammonia is another serious threat to health and safety if there is a leak. When released into the air, it rapidly expands into a cloud of dense gas. The ammonia vapors initially hug the ground, making the chance of human exposure much higher than with most other gases.
Symptoms of ammonia exposure include:
- Eye, nose, and throat irritation;
- respiratory difficulty and pain;
- pulmonary edema;
- and, burning and blistering.
At high concentrations, ammonia can be fatal.
The company said that, at the time, a professional refrigeration company performed a review on March 11 and found “no actionable levels of ammonia … and the plant was cleared of any potential risk to the company’s employees.”
OSHA stated that a complaint was made in regards to existing of hazards. The administration will address the complaint in accordance with its complaint and referral processing policy.
About Worksite Medical
In most cases, OSHA requires medical surveillance testing, and at no cost to employees.
Worksite Medical makes that program easier with mobile medical testing.
We conduct on-site respirator fit tests, as well as audiometric exams, pulmonary function tests and heavy metal lab work, right on your job site. We also keep accurate, easy-to-access medical records for your convenience. You’ll keep your employees at work, and stay ahead of OSHA inspections.
With Worksite Medical, a mobile medical testing unit — we can bring all the resources of a lab to you. Our certified lab technicians can perform both qualitative and quantitative respirator tests to ensure a perfect fit.
Protect your team and your workplace now with Worksite Medical. Not sure what you need? Try our medical testing wizard here.
Give us a call at 1-844-622-8633, or complete the form below to schedule an on-site visit or to get your free quote.