An investigation is still open, leaving many questions unanswered, in a manufacturing plant explosion and facility collapse that killed two people and injured 10 others. The incident occurred on January 20, 2014 at the International Nutrition plant located in Omaha, Nebraska. The company manufactures feed grade nutritional, medicated, and food products for livestock and other animals.

In the aftermath of this tragic incident, the questions investigators are considering include: which occurred first – the explosion or the facility collapse? And, was there combustible dust involved? Representative from International Nutrition, Kim Nguyen, believes that it was strong winds that caused the facility to collapse. Shortly following the incident, Nguyen said, “We have experienced very, very bad winds. That’s what caused the collapse.”

While the official investigation could take several more months, some outside experts in building structures and grain dust are speculating that while it is still too soon to tell, it’s likely that the explosion caused the building to collapse, not the other way around. Photographs of the incident show wall panels bowed out and blown off, which according to William Field, professor of agriculture and biological engineering at Purdue University, could point to an explosion. Carolos Campabadal, agriculture engineer from Kansas State University’s grain science and industry department believes, given the nature of International Nutrition’s business, the explosion may have been caused by grain dust, which can be powerful enough to collapse a concrete structure. Grain dust explosions can be so dangerous, that the Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA) has designated the grain handling industry as a high-hazard industry, stating:

Grain dust explosions are often severe, involving loss of life and substantial property damage. Over the last 35 years, there have been over 500 explosions in grain handling facilities across the United States, which have killed more than 180 people and injured more than 675. Grain dust is the main source of fuel for explosions in grain handling. Grain dust is highly combustible and can burn or explode if enough becomes airborne or accumulates on a surface and finds an ignition source (such as hot bearing, overheated motor, misaligned conveyor belt, welding, cutting, and brazing).

OSHA is currently investigating the International Nutrition incident and has indicated that they will focus on both structural deficiencies and a combustible dust explosion as possible causes of the facility collapse.

While many questions regarding to the incident remain, according to Omaha Fire Chief Bernard Kanger, “What we do know is there was a significant event that occurred, causing catastrophic failure of the structure…the second and third stories of the facility collapsed, sending tens of thousands of pieces of concrete, steel, and sheet metal pounding through to the first floor.”

We will continue to monitor this incident and provide details as we can.

By Jeff Harrington, CEO and Founder of Harrington Group, Inc.