Nitrogen Exposure Leads to Death

Nitrogen exposure led to the death of a Latino worker in Nebraska and now the company faces $30,900 in violations.   The 23-year-old Latino worker was found unresponsive in a tanker truck at the company’s Big Red Farms facility in June. He was conducting sampling of the tank, which contained egg products and nitrogen. OSHA has cited the company, known for producing such products such as Crystal Farms, AllWhites and Simply Potatoes , for five serious safety violations, including exposing employees to nitrogen hazards.

OSHA’s inspection found Michael Foods failed to prevent employees from entering permit-required confined spaces. The company also did not ensure emergency services were proficient in confined space rescues and  appropriate equipment for a confined space rescue could be used to perform one quickly. A confined space is one large enough for workers to enter and perform certain jobs, such as a tanker truck, but it has limited or restricted means for entry or exit and is not designed for continuous occupancy.

The company also did not train workers on the health hazards related to atmospheric chemicals in the workplace; failed to evaluate respiratory hazards for employees sampling from nitrogen-filled tanks; and did not ensure employees wore appropriate eye protection when exposed to corrosive liquids. Exposure to nitrogen can cause respiratory irritation, and excess nitrogen can deplete oxygen, creating asphyxiation hazards.

“Confined spaces put workers at risk for serious injury and illness from hazards, such as poor atmospheric quality,” said Bonita Winingham, OSHA’s area director in Omaha. “This tragedy could have been prevented had the employer implemented basic safety precautions associated with confined spaces and nitrogen exposure.”

To learn more about the dangers of confined spaces, please see OSHAcademy course 713 Confined Space Program.