Six months after a building collapse, that killed two employees and injured 17, WOWT 6 News now knows what caused it.
According to the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, nine storage bins on the building's roof level were overloaded with excess limestone. The extra weight caused the bins to collapse three floors into the center of the facility in about 30 seconds.
OSHA worked with structural engineers and combustible dust experts as part of their investigation into the January 20 collapse of the International Nutrition building near 77th and I Streets. The agency took the entire six months it's allowed to complete the investigation.
A 53-year-old worker, who had been with the company just over a year, was cleaning on the second floor and a 47-year-old worker, who had been employed at the facility for 10 years, was conducting maintenance when the bins collapsed. Both Keith Everett and David Ball were killed.
Four workers were trapped in the rubble of the building after the collapse and were rescued by the Omaha Fire Department’s ladder truck rescue team. They and five other workers were transported to the hospital with injuries.
“International Nutrition’s decision to overload these bins directly led to the deaths of these two workers and the injuries sustained by nine other employees,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. “Families lost loved ones because International Nutrition did not follow the basic safety procedures that would have prevented this senseless loss of life.”
OSHA Area Director Bonita Winingham said, "During our investigation, we found that there was no evidence of an explosion that occurred that would have caused the incident. Our findings were the structural collapse was the cause."
WOWT 6 News has learned OSHA proposed $120,560 in fines for one willful violation, one repeat violation, and 11 additional safety violations at the plant. As a result, International Nutrition will also be placed on the "Severe Violator Enforcement Program (Severe VEP)."
In total, OSHA has visited the facility 13 times dating back to 1974. Eight of those visits led to violations; however, it had not landed on the Severe VEP program until now. OSHA officials told WOWT 6 News that usually occurs when companies rack up violations of $100,000 or more.
The plant makes nutritional products that are added to livestock and poultry feed. The company issued the following statement Monday in response to release of the OSHA findings:
International Nutrition is fully committed to maintaining a safe working environment for its employees. Our thoughts and prayers remain with the families and loved ones of Keith Everett and David Ball as well as those injured in accident. All of the injured employees have been released from the hospital and many returned to work at International Nutrition while we rebuild the facility.
International Nutrition has been cooperating fully with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration ("OSHA") to determine the cause of the collapse of a portion of the Company's facility. Today, we learned that OSHA has announced several citations related to alleged safety violations at our facility. While we are disappointed in the conclusions arrived at by OSHA, we continue to work towards determining the cause of the accident.
With respect to the accident, OSHA has cited International Nutrition under the "General Duty Clause," which means that there is no allegation the Company violated a specific standard related to this unfortunate accident. OSHA, has, however, cited the Company for a "Willful" violation. We disagree strongly with OSHA's conclusions. We especially disagree that Company officials knew of any condition, which could have contributed to the collapse of our building. None of the other citations relate, in any way, to the accident.
We look forward to presenting the facts demonstrating our commitment to employee safety —– both before the January 20 accident and afterward. At the same time, we welcome the opportunity to work with OSHA to continue to improve employee safety at our facility.
We asked OSHA and some workers to explain the cause of an overloaded roof. The top floor of the plant had nine compartments nine compartments holding ingredients. Two of the corners held limestone used to rinse out the animal medicine tanks. Investigators say the company put limestone in two more corners of the floor, overloading it, resulting in the collapse.
"Instant, boom 10 seconds and debris was on our face, fire in our face, just I don't want to even think about it, trying to get past it,” Kendrick Houston said. Houston’s healing is something he takes one day and one step at a time. It’s the way it has to be he says, ever since that day in January at work. “Definitely been a struggle, just like I said, taking it day by day and letting God do his blessings and let him do his will."
Houston’s recovery now turns internal. “Tough Fourth of July you know what I mean, with all the fireworks and what not, it was different,” Houston said. Reporter asks, "Because it reminded you of what happened?" "Yes, it definitely reminded me of the explosion. Everyday I thought I was safe, just trying to do the right thing to take care of my kids, going to work, going to do honest man's work, you never think things like that would happen at work,” Houston said.
Erik Ocampo was one of the employees in the building at the time. He told us Monday, “I tried to run and boom. Something falls on me. I never saw what him me.”
Ocampo was on the first floor when the plant collapsed. His arms were on fire and he couldn't move.
“I cried out to God, ‘If it's your will then let me go out peacefully,’” he said. "The moment that it happened, it still plays almost like it was yesterday through mind, I’ll dream about it sometimes, I’ll just sit down and it just replays, replays, replays,” Ocampo said. For Ocamp the nightmare lives on, trapped inside calling out for help, nearly convinced he would die inside the building.
The pastor's son soon had the strength to escape. Six months later, pig skin helps his arms heal but a damaged disc in his back causes constant pain.
“It's hard to wrap your arms around it,” he said. “You're fine a few months ago and you're fine enjoying life and then you're in the hospital with a bad back and burns. Your whole life switches and you can't do the things you like to do.”
As the Department of Labor, through OSHA, explained Monday that the collapse was caused by overloading the top floor bins with limestone, OSHA’s Bonita Winingham told us, “They had started adding the limestone the previous year.”
Erik Ocampo is still looking for work after five months of rehab. The 20-year-old said there just aren't many jobs where you can take a five-minute break to stretch after every 15 minutes. He believes his dream of becoming an auto-body technician is over.
“There's no one to be angry with,” he said. “Even if the company is at fault, it does me no good to be angry because it will just tear away at me."
Erik says he has no choice but to be OK with his lot in life but he hopes time helps improve his back. He knows the outcome could have been worse, especially when he thinks of his two co-workers Keith Everett and David Ball who never went home after the collapse.