This Imperial Sugar photograph by Ed Lallo shows employees in a Gramercy, La. computer lab.

CSB Set to Approve Final Port Wentworth Report

The February 2008 explosion and fire at the Imperial Sugar refinery in Georgia sparked attention and concern about combustible dusts. The company's computer-based training teaches workers about dust, food safety, emergency preparedness, and heat stress.

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board has scheduled a public meeting Sept. 24 in Savannah, Ga., to consider approving the staff's final report on the Feb. 7, 2008, explosion and fire at Imperial Sugar's Port Wentworth sugar refinery nearby. The blast and fire destroyed the sugar packing buildings, palletizer room, and silos and damaged the bulk train car loading area and parts of the sugar refinery. Fourteen people died in the incident, eight at the scene and six others afterward at a burn unit; 36 people were hurt.

The meeting is scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. at the Hilton Savannah DeSoto. CSB staffers will present the results of their investigation, and a public comment period will follow before the board votes on the report.

Imperial Sugar restarted the refinery in mid-June 2009. The company reported Aug. 25 that it had retrained about 300 Port Wentworth workers in collaboration with Savannah Technical College and the Georgia Department of Technical and Adult Education. Imperial also said it has launched a corporate-wide, computer-based training program this year that includes employees at its Gramercy, La. and Sugar Land, Texas sites.

The training covers emergency preparedness, heat stress, preventing food contamination, and superior manufacturing practices. The Port Wentworth refinery developed a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) food safety module that helps employees identify and eliminate potential food safety hazards in the manufacturing and distribution processes.

"We consider the specific needs of the respective audiences addressed by each of the modules as the material is developed," said Ron Allen, Imperial's senior director of Environmental Safety, Health and Quality. "Advanced training will be provided to operations staff that manage combustible dust issues on a daily basis. But it's also worth noting that all Imperial Sugar associates will complete a CBT module that addresses the basic fundamentals of working safely around sugar and sugar dust. Each course is tailored to the specific knowledge requirements of the respective associate group."

The company said Tina Kerby, a member of Imperial's HR department, spearheaded the CBT project out of Port Wentworth. She said the program "achieves a number of objectives. It helps us meet new regulatory safety guidelines, improves quality, and enhances our competitive advantage."

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