A consultant hired by Imperial Sugar issued a report warning the company about dust hazards at its Georgia refinery two days before a deadly explosion fueled by sugar dust erupted at the plant near Savannah, Georgia. According to the Savannah Morning News, the consultant, McAljon Engineering, warned the company in a report dated February 5, 2008 that the refinery’s dust collection systems were impaired. Two days later, the massive explosion occurred in the plant, killing 14 workers and injuring dozens more. Imperial Sugar claims it did not receive the consultant’s report until after the blast occurred. Federal investigators later blamed the explosion on sugar dust that ignited like gunpowder. Lawyers for Imperial Sugar claim that the consultant never made such a report and had actually faked it after the explosion.
But the Occupational Safety and Health Administration said last July that Imperial Sugar executives knew about dust hazards at the plant. The agency said its investigation of the Georgia explosion found company audits, insurance records and other documents showing the company had been warned about combustible dust hazards at its plants several times since 2002. OSHA has proposed fines totaling $8.7 million against Imperial Sugar for safety violations at the Georgia refinery and at another plant in Gramercy, La. The Sugarland, Texas-based company is contesting the fines.
The Savannah newspaper reported it obtained three reports — from 2006, 2007 and last year — from consultants hired by Imperial Sugar that cited problems with the refinery’s dust collection systems. An August 2006 report said the safety system was outdated. The report dated two days before the deadly blast said parts of a machine used to suck dust from the air inside the plant were operating at about half the air flow they were designed to produce. A few dust collection pathways were blocked altogether. Imperial Sugar claims it did not ignore safety concerns raised by its consultants. Imperial says it took action in terms of repairs and maintenance to its dust collection systems prior to the February 7, 2008 explosion, along with many other efforts towards improving safety at the facility.
Source: Associated Press
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