Foulke 'Outraged' As Imperial Sugar Hit with $8.8 Million Fine

The federal hammer fell today on Imperial Sugar, five months after a Feb. 7 explosion that wrecked and burned part of its Port Wentworth, Ga., sugar mill. Thirteen workers have died as a result, and the head of OSHA, Edwin Foulke Jr., described himself as "outraged" when he announced the company is being fined $8,777,500, which OSHA said is the third-largest fine it has ever issued.

"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," he said. "What is even worse is that a month after the devastating catastrophe in Port Wentworth that claimed the lives of 13 people, this company had done little to ensure abatement of the combustible dust hazards at its other plant. 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."

Next Tuesday, the chairman of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, John Bresland, is scheduled to testify about the root causes of the explosion on Capitol Hill. He'll address members of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee's Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety, which is chaired by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. Expect Bresland to push once again in his testimony for an OSHA combustible dust standard.

OSHA said it issued $5,062,000 in penalties for safety violations at Imperial's Port Wentworth refinery and $3,715,500 for safety violations found at its Gramercy, La. refinery. The citations include 108 instances of willful violations related to the combustible dust hazard, including the failure to clean up dust and not using appropriate equipment or safeguards where combustible dust is present, according to the agency. OSHA also issued 10 citations for other willful violations, 100 citations for serious violations, and four citations for other-than-serious safety and health violations.

Imperial has already contested the case. President and CEO John C. Sheptor issued this statement: "We share a mission with OSHA: a safe workplace for our employees and contractors. Today we received citations from OSHA and made our initial review and evaluation of the allegations contained in the citations. Based on this review, we have filed with OSHA a 'notice of contest' of the citations, in which we challenge the allegations of the citations, the characterization of the violations and the penalties proposed. In short, we believe that the facts do not merit the allegations made. As we go forward, we will continue to focus on the safety of our employees and our contractors, not only as we rebuild our Port Wentworth, Georgia facility, but also at our Gramercy, Louisiana and Ludlow, Kentucky facilities. We look forward to continuing our partnership with OSHA in the future as we have in the past."

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