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ConAgra Explosion: Employees, OSHA and Workers' Compensation

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By David Goguen on June 10, 2009 12:20 PM

An explosion this week at a ConAgra food processing facility in North Carolina killed three employees and injured dozens more. The story puts a renewed focus on federal regulation of workplace safety, the legal rights of injured employees, and navigation of the complex workers' compensation systems in place in most states.

Although the cause of Tuesday's explosion and roof collapse at the ConAgra Slim Jim production plant in Garner is still under investigation, witnesses reported smelling a strong ammonia-like odor before the blast. Reuters is reporting that "State workplace safety officials inspected the plant last July, but found no violations."

What should employees know about their legal rights to a safe workplace, and the legal hoops they may need to jump through if the filing of a workers' compensation claim becomes necessary?

OSHA and Employees' Right to a Safe Workplace. Most workplace safety standards (and violations) are covered under a federal law known as "OSHA" (formally, the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970). Basically, OSHA guarantees most employees the right to a workplace that is reasonably free of safety and health hazards, and provides standards for employee access to relevant information on health and safety risks.

OSHA also requires employers to implement compliant workplace health and safety standards and programs, and to inform employees of these safeguards as part of a comprehensive hazard communication program. Get more information on Workers' Rights Under OSHA.

Workers' Compensation. The "Workers' compensation" system in each state outlines both the procedures that injured employees must follow in order to receive monetary relief after a workplace accident, and the specific benefits they can receive.

Most businesses need to carry some version of workers' compensation insurance, and in many ways a workers' compensation claim is closer to an insurance claim than it is to a traditional lawsuit. Learn more about Workers' Compensation.