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2 men held criminally liable in plant explosion

Safety advocates in Georgia are watching a case where two men, both in former supervisor positions, entered no contest pleas to felonies when a water heater blew up and killed two employees in California in 2009. The plant manager and maintenance supervisor will complete 250 hours of community service and do not need to serve time in custody. They will also compensate the families of the victims $450,000 for the workplace accident.

The industrial plant needed a new commercial boiler, but instead, the pair bought a residential hot-water heater from a big-box chain. The water heater was apparently rigged to boost its output but could not support the burden and blew up on March 19, 2009, in the accident that claimed the lives of the two victims and permanently closed plant operations.

In 2007, the company relocated from Pennsylvania to California. The two supervisors were working to have the company operational as quickly as possible. Although an industrial boiler was on the premises, they felt it would cost too much to make it operational. Instead, they opted to buy another model and installed it on the day of the final deadline that corporate headquarters gave.

When the pressure relief valve overloaded in Oct. 2008, facility management didn't replace it, but put in a new heat pump motor. Another company bought out the facility and initiated a safety inspection in Feb. 2009 but continued to use the heater. On March 19, 2009, the workers went to repair a water leak and were killed in the ensuing explosion, which also destroyed the majority of the plant.

After a factory explosion, family members might wonder if the plant was negligent. A workers' compensation attorney might be able to review a case to determine who should be held liable for an accident.

Source: EHS Today, "Plant Leaders Agree to Pay $450,000 to Families of Workers Killed in 2009 Explosion", Josh Cable, February 21, 2014

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