OSHA faults Olathe drilling company in JJ’s blast

An Olathe company drilling to install cable is to blame for the February explosion that killed one, injured more than a dozen and destroyed JJ’s restaurant on the County Club Plaza, according to a federal agency.

Heartland Midwest LLC has been cited for multiple safety violations, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration said in a Thursday press release.

It is seeking $161,000 in penalties.

“This explosion was a tragic event that stemmed from errors on behalf of Heartland Midwest,” according to a statement by Marcia Drumm, acting regional administrator for OSHA in Kansas City.

The company’s lawyer, Brad Russell, issued a press statement strongly rejecting what he called “ill-founded and unsubstantiated allegations.”

The company will contest claims “it feels are weak and ill defined,” he said.

Three of the company workers were hospitalized after the explosion and OSHA cited it for two “willful” violations of safety laws, its most serious finding.

One was for failing to provide employees with a workplace free of hazards and exposing them to known hazards.

One was for not providing workers with footwear to protect them while boring near underground electrical lines.

OSHA also cited the company for three serious violations – for failing to ensure workers were qualified, failing to instruct them properly and failing to prevent one from smoking near the gas leak caused by the drilling.

Russell said the company uses on-the-job training and, “Apparently, the federal government feels that reading pamphlets and watching safety videos are more effective and important than learning on the job.”

There is no dispute that the Heartland crew hired by Time Warner Cable punctured a gas line.

It found two other lines, Russell said, planned to drill safely below them and hit “a third undisclosed utility line.”

OSHA on Thursday also cited JJ’s for “having a deficient emergency action plan” and proposed a $2,000 fine. That was because the restaurant did not train workers to assist in evacuations or have a procedure to protect them following an emergency evacuation, OSHA said.

One restaurant worker died in the explosion and fire.

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