Six workers died at a chicken processing plant in January 2021 from the release of fatal liquid nitrogen.

Credit: Capitol Beat News Service

ATLANTA — The release of fatal liquid nitrogen at a poultry processing plant in Gainesville nearly three years ago was “completely preventable,” according to a newly released federal report.

Six workers died at the Foundation Food Group (FFG) plant in January 2021 when a liquid nitrogen control system in a freezer room failed due to a bent tube that allowed the room to be filled with a deadly cloud, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) found. 

The severity of the incident was worsened by FFG’s inadequate emergency preparedness, including a failure to install air monitoring and alarm devices. As a result, at least 14 workers entered the freezer room or the surrounding area to investigate the incident or try to rescue coworkers, with three of those workers and a firefighter suffering serious injuries from asphyxiation.

“Workers were not aware of the deadly consequences of a liquid nitrogen release,” said Drew Sahli, the CSB investigator in charge. “Ultimately trying to save their colleagues led to them sacrificing their own lives. This is a known hazard, and better training and communication could have prevented such a tragedy.”

After the incident, FFG sold the plant to Gold Creek Foods, which is its current owner. Gold Creek does not have liquid nitrogen freezing processes in the building where the incident occurred.

The CSB report made 12 safety recommendations, including calling on the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to establish a national standard addressing hazards arising from the storage, use, and/or handling of cryogenic asphyxiants.

The agency also suggested that the Compressed Gas Association and the National Fire Prevention Association improve their guidance on the safe use of cryogenic asphyxiants, including liquid nitrogen,

“The CSB’s recommendations are important for preventing incidents involving liquid nitrogen and lessening their severity if they do occur,” CSB Chairman Steve Owens said. “The hazards of liquid nitrogen must be clearly communicated to workers, and the safety management systems for operations that use liquid nitrogen must be improved.”

This story comes to GPB through a reporting partnership with Capitol Beat News Service