Last week, OSHA issued Imperial Sugar an $8.8m fine, said to be the third largest in OSHA’s history, following a sugar refinery explosion in February at the company’s Port Wentworth, Georgia, plant. The explosion killed 13 employees and hospitalized 40 others.
OSHA said the company’s facilities in Port Wentworth as well as in Gramercy, Louisiana, have large accumulations of combustible sugar dust in workrooms, on electrical motors and on other equipment, and that officials at the company were well aware of these conditions but took no action reasonably directed at reducing the obvious hazards.
“I am outraged that this company would show a complete disregard for its employees’ safety by knowingly placing them in an extremely dangerous work environment,” said OSHA Assistant Secretary of Labor Edwin G. Foulke Jr. “If OSHA investigators had not inspected and posted an imminent danger notice regarding areas at the second plant, the same thing could have happened again.”
Imperial Sugar’s CEO John Sheptor said it is contesting the allegations and the penalties proposed by OSHA. Sheptor said the Gramercy facility remains closed while they ensure that they have taken all appropriate measures for a safe operation.
Sheptor also blamed OSHA for not having a clear and comprehensive workplace safety standards that specifically addresses combustible dust.
“We disagree strongly with OSHA’s claims and we look forward to presenting the facts that show our commitment to safety both before the February 7 accident and afterwards. At the same time, we welcome the opportunity to work with OSHA to improve safety at our facilities and other employers, including assisting OSHA in promulgating a combustible dust standard.”
Imperial Sugar is scheduled to testify this week at a Senate hearing on combustible dust.
The US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigations Board (CSB), an independent scientific and technical agency, is also conducting its own investigation on the Imperial Sugar disaster.
According to this article from ICIS Chemical Business, CSB charged that OSHA failed to voluntarily implement recommendations made by the agency in 2006 to create a comprehensive standard for explosive dust safety.