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Workers Die After Plant Fire

Two employees died from injuries received in a fire, bringing number of workers killed in accidents at the Hoeganaes Corp. plant this year to four.

GALLATIN, Tenn. (AP) -- Two employees have died from injuries received in a fire at a Gallatin factory, bringing the total number of workers killed in accidents at the Hoeganaes (HAY'-gan-eez) Corp. plant this year to four.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center spokeswoman Jennifer Wetzel said Eric Hulsey died on Tuesday evening and Rick Lester died Wednesday morning. Co-worker Fred Tuttle remains in critical condition. Two others hurt on Friday had only minor injuries.

The plant employs about 175 people making metal powders for automotive and industrial uses.

"At this incredibly sad time in our business, our thoughts and prayers are with Eric and Rick and their families," Vice President of Human Resources Mike Mattingly said in a Wednesday interview. Mattingly has been in Gallatin since last week, when he attended the funeral of an employee who was injured in a January flash fire and only succumbed to his wounds recently.

That accident also killed another worker. And a March accident caused a fireball that injured another worker.

Mattingly said on Wednesday that production at the plant was shut down after the most recent accident and will remain that way until the company completes what he called "a comprehensive safety review" of the entire facility, expected to last about two weeks.

Gallatin Assistant Fire Chief Tommy Dale has said last week's fire was caused by a gas leak. Both the Tennessee Occupational Health and Safety Administration and the U.S. Chemical Safety Board are investigating.

Mattingly said the company has not yet been able to conduct its own investigation because the CSB still has control of the accident site.

The two previous accidents occurred after flammable dust accumulated in the air and combusted, according to an investigation by the safety board.

In a news release from May 11, CSB Investigator-in-Charge Johnnie Banks criticized the Cinnaminson, N.J.,-based company for knowing of the danger the dust posed and not adequately addressing it. When his team inspected the plant, 2- to 3-inch layers of dust were found on surfaces throughout the facility and dust was visible in the air.

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