OSHA: Imperial Sugar Will Pay More Than $6 Million, Implement Safety and Health Abatement Measures

OSHA announced July 7 that it has resolved litigation with Imperial Sugar Co. stemming from the February 2008 explosion at the company’s Port Wentworth, Ga., plant and subsequently discovered safety and health violations at the company’s Gramercy, La., facility.

“The 2008 explosion took the lives of 14 people and seriously injured dozens of others. Clearly, health and safety must become this company’s top priority,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. “This agreement requires Imperial Sugar to make extensive changes to its safety practices, and it underscores the importance of proactively addressing workplace safety and health hazards.”

In the agreement, submitted to Judge Covette Rooney of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, Imperial Sugar will pay $4,050,000 in penalties for the 124 violations found at its Port Wentworth plant after the explosion, plus an additional $2 million for the 97 violations found in March 2008 after an inspection of its only other facility, located in Gramercy. The citations alleged, among other safety and health hazards, that the company failed to properly address combustible dust hazards.

Imperial contested the citations and reached settlement agreements in both matters. Under the terms of the settlement agreements, Imperial made no admissions to the allegations asserted by OSHA in the citations and agreed to pay in four quarterly installments the total penalty of $6.05 million, which had been provided for in previous fiscal periods. Imperial further agreed to continue many of the safety measures already implemented at Port Wentworth and Gramercy and to implement certain other measures regarding the safety and health of its employees. The settlements resolve all pending OSHA citations against the company.

“Imperial Sugar is pleased to resolve the citations,” said CEO and President John Sheptor. “Imperial agreed to the terms with OSHA in order to settle these matters expeditiously and amicably, and to allow us to better concentrate our resources toward not only enhancing the safety of our own facilities, but also to assist the sugar industry as a whole in addressing workplace hazards.”

As part of the settlement, Imperial Sugar agrees that it has corrected all deficiencies at both of its plants or will correct those deficiencies according to a set schedule. Preventative maintenance and housekeeping programs have been established, and Imperial Sugar will identify and map locations where combustible dust may be present at its plants. The company also will conduct regular internal safety inspections and employee training, and hire an independent expert at each plant to ensure that there are adequate avenues of communication on worker safety and health issues within the company.

Furthermore, Imperial Sugar has hired and agrees to continue to employ a full-time certified safety professional for the Georgia plant. The company will retain outside consultants to conduct safety audits for a three-year period and evaluate Imperial’s programs relating to managing combustible dust hazards, such as housekeeping, preventative maintenance and protective equipment for workers. OSHA will approve all safety, health and organizational experts retained by the company.

OSHA will receive current and accurate injury logs whenever requested, and OSHA will be allowed to enter the facility and conduct inspections based on those logs without objection from the company. OSHA will regularly monitor progress and compliance with the agreement and continue to conduct regular inspections of the facility.

Sheptor commended OSHA for its dedication to worker safety, and reiterated Imperial’s commitment to adhering to and exceeding its obligations under the OSH Act. “We are working diligently to become our industry leader in workplace safety.”

Since the OSHA citations were issued, Imperial Sugar has worked with leading experts to collect and develop, through testing and other research efforts, information about the hazards of combustible dust specific to the sugar industry. Noted Sheptor, “Imperial’s extensive studies have guided us in implementing new hazard controls as we rebuilt our Port Wentworth facility as well as our existing facility in Gramercy. We have learned much from our experts and our own studies regarding combustible dust, and we are sharing our knowledge throughout the industry to help others to be aware of the hazards of combustible dust.”

Imperial has already made numerous presentations to industry and government agencies to share what it has learned about managing the hazards of combustible dust, and it will continue this outreach in the future.

Sheptor also noted, “We have supported OSHA’s rulemaking initiative to develop a combustible dust standard, and we have provided detailed input to OSHA on what we have learned regarding the hazards of combustible dust.”

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