Dust potential factor in Statesville flour mill explosion

STATESVILLE, N.C. — Bricks were blown off the side of a building at Bartlett Milling Company in Statesville. A cross-section is now visible. An explosion there Sunday seriously hurt one employee.

Tom O'Connor is the executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, a nonprofit that advocates for more safe and healthy work environments.

The cause of the explosion still hasn't been determined, but O'Connor said he is worried it could have been combustible flour dust.

"A plant like a flour mill may not seem like a dangerous place, but those kinds of facilities, where there can be a large amount of dust, is easily explosive if there's any kind of electric spark," said O'Connor.

In 2011 there was grain elevator explosion in Kansas that killed six people. That mill is owned by the same company that owns Bartlett Milling Company in Statesville.

In April of last year, OSHA released a statement saying it was citing the Bartlett Grain Company with several violations including allowing grain dust to build up.

Last month, Bartlett released a statement saying the OSHA citations are flawed and that it's brought in a team of experts to help prove OSHA's findings didn't cause the accident.

O'Connor said there are some OSHA rules surrounding dust in these kinds of mills but he'd like to see that expanded to all workplaces.

"It's a well-known hazard and one that should be easily preventable with proper precautions," said O'Connor.

A spokesperson for the Bartlett company told Eyewitness News Tuesday there was no new information to release.

The fire marshal told Eyewitness News that special equipment is being brought in Tuesday night to shore up the building. Then investigators can get back inside the building to continue to look into what caused the explosion.

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