OSHABoth a contractor and a restaurant have been cited by OSHA in the Feb. 19th explosion and fire that killed one worker and injured three others.

A crew's mistake

The incident was caused by an uncontained natural gas leak released from an underground 2-inch natural gas transmission pipeline. A crew employed by Heartland Midwest LLC, a communication utilities contracting company, breached the natural gas supply line with the boring tip of a horizontal directional drilling machine while laying a fiber-optic cable outside JJ’s Bar and Grill in Kansas City.

OSHA conducted two investigations; a fatality investigation of JJ's Bar and Grill and a catastrophe investigation of Heartland Midwest LLC, because three of the company's workers were hospitalized for one or more days.

Heartland Midwest LLC was cited for multiple violations that include 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.

No PPE against electrocution

The company 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.

The company faces proposed penalties of $161,000 and has been placed in OSHA's Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which targets employers who commit willful, repeat or failure-to-abate hazards. Under the program, OSHA may inspect any of the employer's facilities if it has reasonable grounds to believe there are similar violations.

Smoking near a gas leak

Heartland Midwest was also cited for 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.

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.

Restaurant out of commission

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.

JJ's Restaurant was a fine dining establishment in Kansas City. The restaurant was in business for approximately 30 years and employed 18 individuals at the time of the incident. There is no indication as to whether the restaurant will be rebuilt. No customers were injured in the explosion.