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ConAgra Fined For N.C. Plant Blast

Labor Department says ConAgra Foods will pay $106,000 to settle workplace safety violations after four workers died due to a natural gas explosion last June.

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- ConAgra Foods Inc. has agreed to pay $106,440 for workplace safety violations at a snack foods plant where four workers died after a natural gas explosion last summer, state regulators said Tuesday.

The fines are 21 percent less than the penalties originally assessed last month. Most of the citations against ConAgra Foods involved either failing to provide safety information or for generally failing to provide a workplace free of recognized hazards at its Slim Jim production plant in Garner, south of Raleigh.

"We are fully committed to providing as safe a work environment as possible and making sure that this type of accident never occurs again," ConAgra said in a statement. ConAgra is based in Omaha, Neb.

The state Labor Department last month also cited Energy Systems Analysts, a subcontractor ConAgra hired to install a water heater, for similar violations with a total penalty amount of $58,100. Those citations and fines are still pending.

Hickory-based Energy Systems Analysts referred a call seeking comment to its attorney, who did not respond Tuesday.

ConAgra agreed to change its safety and health procedures as part of its settlement. The company agreed to hold pre-construction conferences with contractors to anticipate health and safety hazards and review plant health and safety policies. ConAgra said it would also check the safety compliance records of contractors before they are hired.

ConAgra waived its right to further contest the citations or penalties.

The settlement also includes revised language that drops references to ConAgra management being present as a contractor working in a plant pump room tried to light a natural gas-fired water heater before the blast.

"The contractor removed the pressure gauge on the 3/8-inch pilot line and opened the supply valve multiple times that allowed a pressurized air mixture containing natural gas to be released in an enclosed room that contained ignition sources including unclassified electrical equipment such as motors and circuit panels," the Labor Department's citation said.

Three workers were killed and more than 70 required hospital treatment after the June 9 explosion in the packaging area caused part of the roof to collapse. A worker for Energy Systems Analysts became the fourth fatality when he died in November after suffering severe burns in the blast.

The Labor Department also opened inspections of 14 other companies after the blast, but none were cited for workplace violations.

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