Agriculture Company Fined For Deadly Explosion

A California agricultural firm has been cited and fined more than $40,000 for a 2015 Bakersfield explosion that killed a bulldozer operator and injured nearby residents.

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The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health says that Big & Deep Ag Development Company, also known as Jeff Alexander Farming, failed to train a bulldozer operator about digging near gas lines while he prepared land to plant almond trees in a process known as “soil ripping.” Despite the company contacting Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) prior to digging, and PG&E flagging the area, the bulldozer operator had not been trained on the hazards of underground utilities or warned about the location of a natural gas pipeline near the area he was working.

“Employers are required to train workers to recognize and avoid hazards that could endanger their lives,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Juliann Sum. “Big & Deep Ag Development was aware of the pipeline’s location and failed to protect their employee and nearby residents from the danger.”

The bulldozer’s shank pierced the “high priority” pipeline resulting in ignition of natural gas under pressure. The bulldozer operator was killed, and a nearby residence was destroyed, resulting in injuries including smoke inhalation and burns to its residents.

Cal/OSHA issued a total of three workplace safety citations to Big & Deep Ag Development Company, with proposed penalties of $40,250. Two of the citations are serious, with one being serious and accident-related. These involved Big & Deep Ag Development Company’s failure to train the bulldozer operator, or to correct unsafe workplace conditions. This employer had pierced the same gas line on a different piece of property in October 2014. That incident did not result in any injuries. A third citation, classified as willful, was issued because the permit to conduct this work had expired.

A serious violation is cited when there is a realistic possibility that death or serious harm could result from the actual hazardous condition.  A willful violation is cited when the employer is aware of the law and violates it nevertheless, or when the employer is aware of the hazardous condition and takes no reasonable steps to address it.

Cal/OSHA’s Consultation Services Branch provides free and voluntary assistance to employers to improve their health and safety programs. Employers should call (800) 963-9424 for assistance from Cal/OSHA Consultation Services.

Employees with work-related questions or complaints may contact The Department of Industrial Relations’ Call Center in English or Spanish at 844-LABOR-DIR (844-522-6734). The California Workers’ Information line at 866-924-9757 provides recorded information in English and Spanish on a variety of work-related topics. Complaints can also be filed confidentially with Cal/OSHA district offices.