Just after 11 a.m., June 17th, a water heater tank collapsed severing an ammonia line at the Smithfield Packing Plant in Tar Heel, NC, causing the evacuation of the entire plant. The Smithfield Packing plant is the largest pork-processing plant in the world, with over 2,000 people working at the time of the leak. Fortunately, the ammonia leak left only eight of those 2,000 workers injured on Tuesday morning.
According to WRAL, not only was the plant evacuated, but authorities also closed Highway 87 for a stretch of about five miles so the hazmat teams could contain the leak and make the scene of the accident safe.
The Plant has had an ammonia leak before, in 2012, where six workers inhaled the fumes of the ammonia and five of those workers were hospitalized. Tuesday, eight workers were taken to Cape Fear Medical Center in Fayetteville due to minor inhalation or heat-related injuries.
A report by the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry details the adverse health effects that acute exposure to ammonia can have on a person, including:
- Rapid onset of eye, nose, and throat irritation
- Narrowing of the bronchi
- Accumulation of fluid in the lungs
- Pain, inflammation, blisters, necrosis and deep penetrating burns (especially on moist skin areas)
- Temporary or permanent blindness
The report also notes that not all health effects may be immediately apparent, and that some of these symptoms may not present themselves until much later; especially when the exposure to the ammonia occurs in small amounts over a longer period of time.
Workers compensation suits allow for those who have been injured during the course of their work or as a result of their work to receive compensation for their injuries. Here, the workers were employed by the plant at the time of the ammonia leak and the hospitalization of those workers due to ammonia inhalation was a direct result of their employment at the plant, two requirements for a successful workers compensation claim (employment by the agency at the time of the accident and the injury being a direct result of your employment).
In 2012, the company paid more than $92,000 in penalties as a result of the ammonia leak. While there is no set amount of money that will be awarded in a workers compensation case, damages may be awarded for medical bills and lost wages.
What should you do if you have been injured on the job? As soon as possible you should inform your employer of your injury, in writing and within thirty days, of how and when you were injured. You should also inform your health care provider that your injury was a result of a workplace accident. Next, you should submit a Form 18 to the North Carolina Industrial Commission, notifying them of your injury and asserting your claim against your employer. (This form is now available for filing online).
Workers compensation claims are time sensitive. If you have been injured, contact an attorney as soon as possible so that you can be guided through this complex process with the helping hand of someone who has done this before.
Every workers compensation claim is different; to ensure that you are getting everything you deserve for your injuries, contact an experienced workers compensation attorney today to discuss your claim.