OSHA cites fiber installers for Kansas City gas explosion

Aug. 22, 2013
US Department of Labor Investigation finds Heartland Midwest LLC's communication utilities crew breached natural gas line while drilling. The crew operated a horizontal directional drilling machine to lay a fiber-optic cable outside a restaurant when the boring tip of the drilling pipe breached a natural gas supply line.

US Department of Labor's OSHA cites Heartland Midwest, JJ's Restaurant after restaurant worker dies in February gas pipe explosion

Investigation found Heartland Midwest crew breached natural gas line while drilling

Heartland Midwest LLC, a communication utilities contracting company, has been cited for multiple safety violations by the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration following a Feb. 19 explosion and fire that resulted in the death of a worker of JJ's Restaurant in Kansas City. JJ's Bar and Grill, which does business as JJ's Restaurant, was cited for one safety violation in the incident.

The explosion and fire was caused by an uncontained natural gas leak released from an underground 2-inch natural gas transmission pipeline. Heartland Midwest LLC's crew operated a horizontal directional drilling machine to lay a fiber-optic cable outside the restaurant when the boring tip of the drilling pipe breached the natural gas supply line.

OSHA conducted two investigations. A fatality investigation of JJ's Bar and Grill was conducted after a worker died in the restaurant as a result of the explosion. OSHA also conducted a catastrophe investigation of Heartland Midwest LLC as three of the company's workers were hospitalized for one or more days.

Heartland Midwest was cited for a willful violation of the General Duty Clause for failing to provide its own employees with a workplace free of recognized hazards that were likely to cause death or serious bodily harm. Employees were exposed to explosion, toxic chemical exposure and electrocution hazards while boring underground and crossing the paths of existing utilities. OSHA determined that this willful citation was a factor in the natural gas release, explosion and fire that resulted in the hospitalization of the three Heartland Midwest workers.

The company was also cited for a willful violation of an OSHA standard for failing to ensure that all crew members were equipped with footwear that protected them from the hazard of electrocution while boring in the vicinity of underground electrical power lines.

"This explosion was a tragic event that stemmed from errors on behalf of Heartland Midwest. Companies, such as Heartland Midwest, have a responsibility to train employees about the hazards that exist on work sites. It is heartbreaking that a person was killed, and numerous employees were severely injured as a result of these violations," said Marcia Drumm, acting regional administrator for OSHA in Kansas City. "OSHA is committed to ensuring safe work practices to prevent endangering the safety and health of workers on the job."

A willful violation of the General Duty Clause is one committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for, or plain indifference to, employee safety and health. A willful violation of an OSHA standard is one committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for, or plain indifference to, the requirements of the OSH Act and standards promulgated under the act.

As a result of the investigation, Heartland Midwest LLC faces proposed penalties of $161,000 and has been placed in OSHA's Severe Violator Enforcement Program. OSHA's SVEP focuses on recalcitrant employers that endanger workers by committing willful, repeat or failure-to-abate violations. Under the program, OSHA may inspect any of the employer's facilities if it has reasonable grounds to believe there are similar violations.

Heartland Midwest was also cited for three serious violations including failing to ensure workers were qualified, through training or experience, to operate a horizontal directional drill machine and its related equipment; instruct workers in the recognition, avoidance and/or elimination of unsafe hazards of buried utility lines and/or pipelines; and prevent a worker from smoking in the vicinity of an uncontrolled natural gas release, following the breaching of a natural gas pipeline.

JJ's Bar and Grill was cited for one serious violation, with proposed penalties of $2,000, for having a deficient emergency action plan. The plan did not designate and train workers to assist in a safe and orderly evacuation, nor did it have a procedure to account for and protect workers following an evacuation due to an emergency, such as an explosion or fire.

A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

The current citations may be viewed at:



The gas line was owned and operated by Missouri Gas Energy. OSHA's inspection was initially opened regarding MGE. However, it was determined that the Missouri Public Safety Commission executed jurisdictional authority over MGE. OSHA and MPSC collaborated during the inspection process. That collaboration included joint investigative activities and witness interviews. The MPSC initial report is expected to be completed and released in September.

Heartland Midwest LLC is a contracting company primarily involved in the installation and alteration of underground communication utilities, using standard excavation and trenching techniques, as well as underground directional boringmethods. The company, which began operations in 2003, is headquartered in Olathe, Kan., with a second facility in Oklahoma. It employs approximately 120 workers, with 78 workers in its Olathe facility.

JJ's Restaurant was a fine dining establishment in Kansas City. The restaurant was in business for approximately 30 years and employed 18 individuals at the time of the incident. There is no indication as to whether the restaurant will be rebuilt. No customers were injured in the explosion.

Both companies have 15 business days from receipt of the citations and notice of proposed penalties to contest the citations and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. If a company does not file or contest within that period, it must abate the cited conditions within the period ordered in the citations and pay the proposed penalties.

To ask questions, obtain compliance assistance, file a complaint, or report workplace hospitalizations, fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to workers, the public should call OSHA's toll-free hotline at 800-321-OSHA (6742) or the agency's Kansas City Area Office at 816-483-9531.


About the Author

Matt Vincent | Senior Editor

Matt Vincent is a B2B technology journalist, editor and content producer with over 15 years of experience, specializing in the full range of media content production and management, as well as SEO and social media engagement best practices, for both Cabling Installation & Maintenance magazine and its website CablingInstall.com. He currently provides trade show, company, executive and field technology trend coverage for the ICT structured cabling, telecommunications networking, data center, IP physical security, and professional AV vertical market segments. Email: [email protected]

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