Only OSHA Has Not Adopted Chemical Safety Board Recommendations Stemming from Imperial Sugar Explosion

Feb. 7, 2012
On the fourth anniversary of the deadly Imperial Sugar explosion, Chemical Safety Board (CSB) Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso revealed that all but one of the agency’s recommendations successfully have been adopted by their recipients. Only OSHA has neglected to heed CSB’s call to "proceed expeditiously" on the recommendation that OSHA promulgate a new combustible dust standard for general industry.

“I am disappointed that OSHA has not moved forward on this recommendation,” commented Moure-Eraso. “Completing a comprehensive OSHA dust standard is the major piece of unfinished business from the Imperial Sugar tragedy.”

Tuesday, Feb. 7, marks the fourth anniversary of the massive sugar dust explosion that killed 14 workers and injured 38 others at the Imperial Sugar Refinery in Port Wentworth, Ga.

“CSB board members and investigation staff keep the memory of this tragedy close to us as we continue to advocate for changes in national workplace rules aimed at preventing such accidents in the future,” Moure-Eraso said. “We believe the safety recommendations that followed from our investigation of this accident will go far in saving lives.”

CSB’s report into the accident was issued at a public meeting in Savannah, Ga., in September 2009. It concluded that Imperial Sugar inadequately had designed and maintained dust collection and sugar handling equipment and that inadequate housekeeping practices allowed highly combustible sugar dust and granulated sugar to accumulate to explosive concentrations throughout the refinery’s packing buildings.

Moure-Eraso said it was gratifying to report that during 2011, CSB designated Imperial Sugar’s responses to all five of its safety recommendations to the company as “Closed-Acceptable Action.” “Closed-Acceptable Action” means that the recipients effectively have implemented the safety changes requested by CSB.

Specifically, CSB recommended that Imperial Sugar develop a corporate-wide comprehensive program to control combustible dust accumulation, develop training materials that address combustible dust hazards and train all employees and contractors and improve its evacuation procedures. CSB also recommended Imperial Sugar comply with National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) recommended practices for preventing dust fires and explosions, and urged the company to conduct a comprehensive review of all of its manufacturing facilities’ adherence to NFPA standards.

CSB also recently received notice from Imperial Sugar’s property insurer, Zurich Services Corp., that it is providing its risk engineers ongoing training in the hazards of combustible dusts, which CSB recommended.

“This will help ensure that hazards are identified during insurance inspections so that the companies can eliminate or reduce the hazard before a catastrophic accident occurs,” said Moure-Eraso. “Additionally, a series of safety recommendations to AIB International and the American Bakers Association – to develop combustible dust training and auditing materials –- also have all been given a status of “Closed-Acceptable Action.”

Click here to view CSB’s Imperial Sugar Investigation Information Page and recommendations. Click here to view CSB’s safety video about the Imperial Sugar explosion.

CSB recently reissued its call for a dust standard following an investigation into three flash fires that occurred in a series of accidents at the Hoeganaes Corp. iron powder processing plant in Gallatin, Tenn., which killed five workers.

OSHA recently lowered the priority of CSB’s recommendation for a combustible dust standard on its regulatory agenda in recent weeks, prompting Moure-Eraso to say will continue to advocate for such a standard. “Preventing dust explosions is a necessary investment: prevention saves lives and massive property losses. It is my view that a comprehensive standard will save lives and prevent future combustible dust fatalities,” concluded Moure-Eraso.

Closure of the CSB’s recommendations shows that important preventive actions have been taken as a result of the CSB’s investigation. I applaud the actions of the organizations that took the appropriate action to fulfill the CSB’s recommendations.

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