Federal government fines Wood River ethanol plant for April worker death

The explosion happened during "routine maintenance and repairs."
Published: Sep. 25, 2023 at 3:37 PM CDT
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WOOD RIVER, Neb. (KSNB) - A federal report claims four safety violations led to an explosion which killed a Grand Island man last spring at the Green Plains ethanol plant near Wood River.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration released on Monday the findings of its investigation into the April 17 explosion.

Jody Norgaard, 49, died from an explosion that happened while he was working on an ethanol stillage tank.

OSHA said sparks from a hand-held angle grinder used to cut bolts on the tank ignited fumes that had accumulated at the top of the tank and caused the explosion which killed Norgaard.

OSHA said Green Plains committed four safety violations which led to the explosion:

  • Failure to control the sparks from the grinder
  • OSHA said the fumes were generated inside an uncleaned or improperly prepared tank and that Green Plains should not have permitted cutting or welding under those conditions
  • The employees did have any fire extinguishing equipment near the work site
  • The manager who authorized the tank repair did not properly complete a “hot work” permit. OSHA said the permit did not have the name of the person performing the work, or the name of the person performing fire watch and did not include readings of the fumes accumulated in the tank

OSHA has proposed a total of $42,412 in fines for the violations.

According to OSHA regulations, Green Plains has 15 days to request a meeting with OSHA or to contest the findings and associated fines.

When asked for comment, Green Plains replied with this prepared statement, “We extend our condolences to the families and employees impacted by the April incident, and are working cooperatively with OSHA to review its findings and citations.”