Hamlet Processing Plant Fire

The Hamlet Chicken Processing Plant Fire was a severe disaster occurred at the Imperial Chicken Processing Plant Unit in Hamlet on September 3, 1991. The main cause of this incidence was failure in hydraulic line system. All the fire doors were locked, and because of this fifty-five people were injured and twenty-five were killed. In the course of its operation, the plant had never received a safety inspection check. Investigator believes that regular safety inspection would have prevented the plant accident in Hamlet.

The company building was 11 year old, the building was used for food processing applications. The interior of the building had large number of rooms which were separated by movable walls. Poultry parts were shipped to the plant, prepared, cooked and packed, then distributed to various retailers. On September 3, a fire broke out because of failure of hydraulic oil feed line. Many of the employees were trapped behind doors inside the building. The company’s management kept the doors padlocked to prevent theft and incursion of foreign objects inside processing area. The investigation into accidents show that, there had never been any safety inspection and also a poultry inspector, who visited the company daily, had realized about the fire and safety violations but failed to take any control measure due to negligence.

The fire began when a 7.6 meter long deep fat fryer spontaneously ignited at around 8.30 am. The fryer’s temperature was controlled thermostatically at 190 degree Celsius. Fire spread rapidly, which caused large quantity of smoke. The smoke was also caused by melting roof insulation. The smoke was very dangerous to breath and many gas pipes inside the building caught fire and exploded. Majority of people escaped through main entrance of the building but most of them were caught in smoke or behind locked doors.

A view of the cooker vat where fire started

The emergency response to the accident had major shortcomings. All the telephones inside the building were damaged and could not be used to summon help. When the fire department nearby the building was contacted, its chief officer refused to help. A different area’s fire department showed up for help but the number of oxygen cylinders they were carrying were less to help the victims.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration conducted an inspection after the fire, they found out that the sprinkler system was inoperative with improper fire exits and no evacuation plan in case of emergency. They also found huge number of bodies around fire exits and inside a large freezer. It was also investigated that the fire was caused because the worker had placed an old faulty fitting to a new line of hydraulic connection.

Now, we can surely see that this accident could have been easily avoided if safety measures had been better implemented, such as:

  • Cooking areas in the processing plant building, carries high risk of fire breakouts. Hence, this area should be separated from the other working area of the building/company.
  • All the emergency exit door could have a double lighting system, where a person could see the lights even in heavy and dense smoke.
  • High pressure equipment should have a shutdown valve, which can be operated during emergency to shut down the failed system completely.  
  • Building could be designed with a proper and efficient smoke evacuation system.
  • A proper and regular inspection could avoid this disaster.
  • Emergency exit drills should be performed in every industry.
  • Encouraging the worker to give an honest opinion about the safety culture of the company.

A song created in the memory of worker that were killed in Hamlet Plant Disaster