Inspectors find ‘hot work’ was cause of fatal explosion at fish plant

Omega ProteinMOSS POINT — A fatal explosion at a fish processing plant on the Mississippi Coast happened when sparks ignited a volatile mixture in a tank, safety officials said yesterday.

U.S. Chemical Safety Board Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso said in a news release that inspectors found workers were performing “hot work” at or near the tank that exploded July 28 at the Omega Protein plant in Moss Point.

Hot work is defined as any burning, cutting, welding or other operation that is capable of initiating fires or explosions.

One worker was killed in the explosion and others were hurt.

Moure-Eraso said the tank contained about eight inches of a mixture of water and fish matter known as “stickwater.”

The explosion blew the lid off the 30-foot-high tank, killing a contract worker who was on top of it, the safety board said. A second contract worker on the tank was severely injured.

“The stickwater inside of the storage tank had been thought to be nonhazardous. No combustible gas testing was done on the contents of the tank before the hot work commenced,” Moure-Eraso said.

Omega Protein officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The plant reopened Aug. 7.

Houston, Texas-based Omega produces fish oils and fish meal for human consumption and use in aquaculture, agriculture and industrial applications. The plant and its adjacent shipyard employ about 300 people, with employment peaking during Menhaden fishing season from mid-April until early November. The company has processing plants in four states.

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