FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (CN) - A welder has sued Nestle Purina Petcare over severe burns and other injuries he suffered in a September 2014 dust explosion at a pet food manufacturing plant in Flagstaff, Arizona.
Andre Buschmann, welding supervisor for Arizona Equipment Fabrication, was repairing holes in the plant's grain elevators when his welding plates ignited fine particles of grain, a combustible material in high concentrations.
"We filed when we did because the two year statute was approaching," Buschmann's attorney, Eddie Pantiliat, said in an interview. In Arizona, personal injury suits must be filed within two years of an incident. "We have not made any contact with Nestle thus far as the case is in its early stages. Mr. Buschmann suffered terrible burn injuries."
Besides third-degree burns to his face, head, neck, ears and back, Buschmann also sustained bruising, hearing loss, smoke inhalation in the explosion and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Dust explosions occur frequently in industrial settings, according to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration. OSHA also lists nearly two dozen materials that could produce an explosive environment under the right conditions: lots of dust, compact spaces, oxygen and an ignition source.
Buschmann says an investigation into the explosion by the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health found Nestle Purina hadn't properly prepared the elevators before Buschmann and three other welders began working. The agency fined the multibillion-dollar company $5,000.
"The employer did not properly assess the workplace to determine if hazards are present, which necessitate the use of personal protective equipment when conducting hot work with a potential of combustible dust explosion," the agency noted in its citation.
The Industrial Commission of Arizona upheld the citation, which was then contested by Nestle Purina. The company ultimately paid $3,500 through a settlement in June 2015. Commission spokesman Bob Charles said fines can be reduced when employers prove they immediately reform or add policies and correct hazardous situations after an incident.
"The director of the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health found that this settlement and actions taken by Purina - revising welding practices, and contractor selection - supported the Occupational Safety and Health Act and thereby agreed to the adjustments," Charles said.
OSHA programs in California, Arizona, Iowa, Oklahoma and Ohio have assessed roughly $17,000 in 12 health and safety penalties against Nestle Purina over the last five years.
Andre's wife is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit.
"Joy Buschmann has been deprived of the support, services, love, companionship, solace, and affection of her husband by reason of the nature of her husband's injuries," the complaint says.
Nestle Purina spokeswoman Wendy Vlieks said the company is aware of the complaint, but has not been served or contacted. She declined further comment on the lawsuit.
The Buschmanns are represented by Pantiliat and Lori Brown of the firm Hymson, Goldstein and Pantiliat in Scottsdale, Arizona.
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