OSHA official: Scottsbluff burn accident was preventable

Published: Jan. 14, 2017 at 8:40 PM CST
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The head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Omaha Area office says an industrial accident in Scottsbluff last week was preventable.

Area Director Jeff Funke tells NBC Nebraska that investigators are conducting three inspections as part of the investigation into the incident at the Western Sugar plant Jan 6. At the time of the accident, the Rocky Mountain Specialty Services worker was cleaning inside an evaporator when he suffered a hot liquid burn over 75% of his body.

Funke says there are federal safety standards that may have applied to the situation. "If all sources of energy would have been locked out, controlled, by the individuals that are inside of the tank, then this would not have occurred,” says Funke, “So this is preventable, we have standards that apply to this. It's the employer's responsibility to follow OSHA standards to make sure this doesn't happen.“

Funke says officials with Western Sugar Cooperative, Rocky Mountain Specialty Services and a third company performing similar cleaning work have all been very cooperative, helping investigators determine the cause and how to prevent similar occurrences in the future.

The identity and condition of the injured worker remains unknown. Following the accident, the man was taken to Regional West Medical Center, then airlifted to an undisclosed Colorado hospital.

OSHA has six months from the date of the accident to determine what, if any, citations or fines will be issued. Funke says he anticipates the investigation will continue "for some time", but would expect a determination to be made well ahead of the six-month deadline imposed by statute.