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Workplace death at WestRock Covington, Virginia facility caused by explosion, investigation finds

COVINGTON, Virginia (From the Roanoke Times) -- An accident that killed a subcontractor employee at the WestRock Co. facility in Covington last October was caused by an explosion, an investigation by state regulators has determined.

The employee was seated on a bleacher step next to a pressure vessel at the facility when one of eight man hatches "blew out," according to a summary of the incident recently posted to the website of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The metal door, which measured 2 feet in diameter, struck the employee.

The case remains under investigation by OSHA's state counterpart, the Virginia Occupational Safety and Health Compliance Program.

WestRock officials have declined to provide details of the accident, which happened at 3:15 a.m. Oct. 6.

An autopsy found that Kent Duane Johnson, 57, of Cushing, Minnesota, died of blunt force trauma to the neck and chest from the blast.

Johnson, a mechanical engineer, was working for Valmet, a contractor hired to do a rebuild project at the facility. Johnson was self-employed and traveled across the country to do service engineering work at paper and pulp mills, often when the facilities were closed for the night.

A WestRock spokesperson said that she could not elaborate on OSHA's preliminary report because the accident was still under review and because the victim was not a company employee.

The brief summary of the ongoing investigation does not indicate a cause of the explosion.

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Join Jim Thompson on the 2nd Annual Papermakers Mission Trip to Guatemala, 22 - 29 July 17. Build houses, talk about the pulp and paper industry. For more information, email jthompson@taii.com with "Guatemala" in the subject line.


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