OSHA Announces Fines for the Imperial Sugar Plants

Today, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released a statement saying the Imperial Sugar refinery explosion in Port Wentworth, GA, just outside of Savannah on Feb 7th, 2008 could have been prevented if they had complied with OSHA safety standards.

According to OSHA, the senior manager of the Port Wentworth plant was fully aware of the hazards and didn’t take any action. They have been warned as early as 2002 about the hazards, yet no reasonable actions were taken to fix the problem. These same conditions were in place when the explosion occurred five years later.

Imperial Sugar’s Gramercy plant in Louisiana was found to have the same combustible dust hazards after the other plant explosion where over a dozen employees were killed and many more were seriously burned.

On March 14th 2008, 5 weeks after the Port Wentworth explosion, an inspection took place at the Gramercy plant. Heaps of combustible dust was still found despite warnings by OSHA to have it eliminated. In some spots the dust was 4 feet thick. OSHA posted an imminent danger notice due to the widespread hazards within the facility.

Osha is issuing the third largest penalty in OSHA history. As a result of the Port Wentworth investigation, OSHA cited the plant with 8.7million dollars worth of fines.

OSHA investigators were onsite within one hour after the explosion, and investigators conducted over 200 interviews including management and employee personnel. OSHA also performed a safety and health inspection.

There were several key findings in the Port Wentworth investigation but the likely cause of the initial explosion was in the amount of combustible sugar dust in the east packaging production elevator, on the east side of silo 1. The dust within the facility caused the secondary explosions as fire spread through packing houses and adjacent structures.

Today, OSHA investigators said the senior management of the Gramercy plant in Louisiana were fully aware of the multiple dust hazards within the facility thanks to a letter sent by OSHA just five weeks after the explosion. The management failed to control or eliminate the hazards, and OSHA shut the plant down.

The citations for the Gramercy plant included unsatisfactory dust levels, a failure to provide explosion suppression, lack of heat sensors on the conveyer belts, and a lack of proper emergency egress for the employees in case of an emergency, just to name a few. These penalties totaled $5,062,000.

The OSHA act was developed in 1970 to investigate workplace accidents. OSHA routinely conducts employee and management interviews, and issues subpoenas against companies who fail to provide safe working environments for their employees.

Thanks to OSHA’s diligent work regarding the sugar refineries, there’s a good chance that lives will be spared in the future.

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