Imperial Sugar pays millions for ignoring combustible dust

Imperial Sugar has finally learned the price for ignoring the combustible dust hazard that killed 14 of its employees and injured dozens more in a 2008 explosion at its Port Wentworth, Ga., plant. In monetary terms it will be more than $6 million, but the cost to its image and its freedom are incalculable.

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 the plant, 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.

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.

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