Potash company fined in wake of November accident that claimed 3

The Intrepid Potash facility near Moab photographed from the air in 2012. The company has been cited for safety violations following a deadly incident Nov. 10.
Photo courtesy of Doc Searls/Wikimedia Commons

The Occupational Safety and Health division of the Utah Labor Commission has fined Intrepid Potash near Moab a total of $6,500 for “serious” safety violations that led to the deaths of three employees in an incident Nov. 10.

Some of the details of the tragedy that claimed the lives of Moab area residents Russell Helquist, 43; Matthew Johnston, 37; and 49-year-old Arthur “Buddy” Secrest remain classified. The Times-Independent filed a GRAMA request with the Utah Labor Commission and learned the agency determined Intrepid Potash committed three violations leading to the tragic incident.

The first citation claims modifications and additions were made to a Gehl Dynalift forklift without the manufacturer’s prior written approval.

The changes affected the “capacity and safe operation” of the forklift, which the men used to pull a pump from a slurry pit, according to state investigators. They used chains attached to one of the lift’s two forks to lift the pump, which weighed a few hundred pounds, and were moving it when the equipment’s backrest came into contact with 12,470-volt AC overhead power lines at about 12:40 p.m.

The men were electrocuted. Helquist and Johnston died at the scene and Secrest died three days later at the University of Utah’s Burn Center in Salt Lake City.

Item 2 of the citation claims the chains the men used to lift the pump barrel did not have proper identification affixed, meaning the chains’ capacity and other information was unavailable to employees. The fines for items 1 and 2 were $1,400 apiece.

Item 3 of the citation revealed Intrepid Potash “did not ensure employee(s) maintained the required clearances with the vehicle or mechanical equipment from the energized overhead power lines as required.”

According to the citation, the required clearance is 10 feet, unless the vehicle is in transit when the required clearance is 4 feet. There were no insulating barriers, which would have allowed the clearance to be less. The fine for this infraction was $3,500.

Intrepid Potash did not immediately return inquiries made to its Denver headquarters. In November, the company said it was “very grateful” for the outpouring of community support for the victims’ families and other company employees that unfolded in the tragedy’s wake.