OMAHA, Neb. — As authorities braved subzero temperatures and the threat of an unstable structure Tuesday to recover the body of a worker killed in the collapse of an Omaha manufacturing plant, federal investigators began trying to determine what caused the industrial accident that killed two and injured 17.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigators were on the scene of the accident Tuesday morning as they took the lead in investigating the collapse, OSHA spokesman Scott Allen said.
It was too early to know what might have caused part of the three-level International Nutrition plant to collapse, Allen said. The plant makes nutritional products that are added to livestock and poultry feed.
Some witnesses reported hearing an explosion before a fire that burned some workers and the partial collapse of the plant Monday morning that killed two people, including 53-year-old Keith Everett, of Omaha. Everett’s body was recovered from the mangled structure Monday evening, but strong winds, cold temperatures and the dangerous rubble forced rescuers to suspend operations before the second victim could be recovered.
The effort to recover the body of that second victim, who authorities have not yet publicly identified, continued Tuesday morning through the efforts of a specially trained team of firefighters. The team also took a structural engineer to help make sure their efforts didn’t further destabilize the crumpled structure, putting rescuers at risk.
“There are many questions yet to be answered about what caused this disaster, but I am confident that the answers provided by federal, state and local officials can offer lessons that will help avoid tragedies like this one in the future,” U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said in a written statement.
One company official cast doubt on reports that an explosion caused the collapse and fire.
Kim Nguyen, the international marketing manager for the company, said Tuesday that an investigator told company officials that there was no explosion, “only a collapse of the building.” She said she could not recall the name of the investigator, and said the investigator did not know what caused the building to collapse.
Nguyen urged people to wait for investigators to complete their study into the accident before drawing conclusions.
“This is a nightmare to people here,” Nguyen said. “It’s just shocking to everyone right now. We work as a family.”
Calls and emails to other company officials were not immediately returned Tuesday.
Monday’s deaths were not the first workplace fatality to occur at the plant.
Besides the two deaths, 17 people were injured, including 10 workers who were sent to hospitals. Hospitals reported that four of the 10 had been released by Tuesday.
OSHA records show International Nutrition was assessed more than $13,000 in penalties for a 2002 accident that killed a 45-year-old worker. The worker died when he fell into a moving mixer that he was cleaning.
The plant also was cited for six safety violations in 2012, ranging from a lack of facilities to flush dangerous chemicals from workers’ eyes and skin to concerns over lacking safeguards for some equipment.