Subcontractor Cited by OSHA in JJ’s Blast Probe
August 16, 2013

(AP) — The federal government said Thursday it is seeking a $161,000 fine against a cable company subcontractor after a fatal explosion leveled a Kansas City restaurant.

The U.S. Department of Labor said in a news release that Olathe, Kan.-based Heartland Midwest was being cited for two willful and three serious violations after a crew breached a natural gas supply line Feb. 19 with a horizontal drilling machine. The blast that came that evening leveled JJ’s restaurant near the Country Club Plaza, a busy outdoor shopping area. One restaurant worker died and 15 other people were injured.

“This explosion was a tragic event that stemmed from errors on behalf of Heartland Midwest,” said Marcia Drumm, acting regional administrator for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in Kansas City. “It is heartbreaking that a person was killed, and numerous employees were severely injured as a result of these violations.”

Heartland attorney Brad Russell disputed the allegations and said in a written statement that Missouri Gas Energy, which owned the gas line that was ruptured, and the utility locating service didn’t provide the cable contractor the depth of the gas line or correct number of utility lines in the area.

“Heartland is disappointed that OSHA has decided to issue ill-founded and unsubstantiated allegations that are neither supported by facts or even law under these circumstances,” the statement said.

Among the willful violations, OSHA alleges Heartland failed to provide its employees with a workplace “free of recognized hazards” while boring underground and crossing the paths of existing utilities. The second willful violation alleged the company failed to ensure all crew members were equipped with footwear that protected them from electrocution while boring near underground electric lines.

OSHA defines a willful violation as one committed with intentional knowing or voluntary disregard for the law’s requirements or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.

The serious violations, defined as those with a substantial probability of death or serious physical harm, include claims that Heartland failed to ensure workers were qualified to operate the equipment and instructed to avoid hazards. OSHA said no training or certification records could be produced for the drilling equipment operator. And the agency found that although the drilling equipment manufacturer requires workers to read the machine’s operating manual, the operator wasn’t provided a Spanish version, even though he neither speaks nor reads English.

The release also noted that the company didn’t prevent a worker from smoking after the gas line was breached.

Because of the violations, OSHA placed Heartland in a severe violator program that focuses on “recalcitrant employers that endanger workers.”

JJ’s also faces a proposed $2,000 penalty for having a deficient emergency action plan. But Steve Emerson, an attorney for JJ’s, stressed that JJ’s employees had evacuated all of the patrons safely and were in the process of evacuating themselves when the explosion occurred.

The release also said OSHA initially opened an investigation into Missouri Gas Energy, whose workers responded to the scene before the blast. But OSHA determined that the Missouri Public Service Commission, the state agency that regulates utilities, had jurisdictional authority. The release said the commission’s initial report into what happened is expected to be released in September.

Missouri Gas Energy spokeswoman Vicki Granado said the company continues to “cooperate with all the regulatory agencies that are involved in the investigation.”

Heartland Midwest Shows City Permits 13 Days Before JJ’s Blast
February 27, 2013

KMBC TV has obtained documents showing Heartland Midwest, the company that Missouri Gas Energy says struck a gas line near JJ’s restaurant, applied for a Kansas City, Missouri excavation permit on February 6,2013.
Heartland Midwest also applied for A traffic control permit in February 13, six days before the blast.
An attorney for the company Brad Russell, says the existence of the documents proves the company had the permits required to do underground work in the area in February 19. That evening at 6:04 pm JJ’s Restaurant was destroyed in an explosion. One person died, more than a dozen people were injured.
9-1-1 records indicate a man from “utility contracting company”, called emergency officials at 4:54 pm that day report the crew has “hit a line”. It’s believed that was an employee of Heartland Midwest.
The restaurant exploded a little more than an hour later after several reports if the smell of gas in the area.
Gas company officials were on the scene trying to shut down the gas line when the blast took place.
The documents obtained by Ch 9 both show the papers were received at City Hall the same day they were submitted by a fax machine belonging to Heartland Midwest.
Russell said the company has remained silent until this point as it took care of its employees injured in the blast and its inability to get to the work scene.
The scene gas not been fenced off as the investigation into what caused the leak and explosion proceeds.
City Haal still regards Heartland Permit application as unapproved.
It appears, however, the questions over the permit continue.
The City says they never received paperwork from Heartland Midwest requesting the permits.
Wednesday. City Hall I-T workers checked the logs of the fax machine.
They discovered the log confirms the documents were received the days they were sent.
Some sort if malfunction with the machine prevented either document from being printed by the fax machine.
Russell confirms Heartland Midwest resubmitted the documents to the City on Feb 20. That is the day after the blast.
Russell said they did that in an effort to help the city locate the paperwork.
Assistant City Manager Pat Klein says it is likely Heartland Midwest’s permit requests would have been approved. The City has never denied requests like this from the company in the past.Russell says when Heartland Midwest heard nothing back from the city, and they had received a fax transmission confirming the requests were rechecked, the company assumed the permits had been approved.

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