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October 2, 2009

US Chemical Safety Board Fails to Recommend Safety Standards for American Workers

Savannah, GA—The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) today again criticized the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) for not recommending strong standards to prevent deadly explosions in food processing and other facilities that use natural gas.

The union reacted to the CSB’s safety bulletin on the deadly explosion at the ConAgra Slim Jim manufacturing facility in Garner, North Carolina the morning of June 9, 2009. The explosion killed three people, injured scores of others and severely damaged the plant.

“Once again the CSB has failed to take the most basic steps for the safety of American workers,” said Jackie Nowell, Occupational Safety and Health Director for the UFCW. “By not recommending urgent standards on fuel gas purging they leave the lives of thousands of workers at risk.”

The CSB failed to recommend changes in fire codes that would restrict the practice of purging gas piping and set criteria for performing it safely. While CSB Chairman John Bresland commended the state of North Carolina for their action to change their codes, unfortunately, the CSB did not recommend the same for national fire codes.

“If the CSB continues to fail America’s workers by not taking a stronger stand for safety, it’s time for change at the CSB,” said Nowell.

The UFCW represents more than 900 workers at the facility, and is the union for thousands of food processing workers in similar facilities nationwide.

June 12, 2009


WASHINGTON, DC – A horrific accident took the lives of three workers and injured 41 others in an explosion and roof collapse at the ConAgra Foods Inc. facility in Garner, North Carolina, on June 9, 2009.  The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 204 represents 900 workers in that facility.

The UFCW is working closely with the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, an independent federal agency, and the North Carolina Occupational Safety and Health Administration (NC-OSHA), as they investigate the accident. The UFCW is providing full assistance to help shed a light on the unfortunate event. In addition, the UFCW has established a fund to assist the victims of the tragic event.

“”The Garner incident is a heartbreaking tragedy that reminds us that worker safety is of the utmost importance in the workplace,”” said Jackie Nowell, UFCW Director of Occupational Safety and Health. “”We are working with the regulatory agencies and the company to ensure that such catastrophes are prevented.””

The UFCW believes that ConAgra is stepping up to the plate by continuing to pay the employees their full salaries, indefinitely. Such measures will bring the much needed comfort to the workers while they try to rebuild their livelihoods.

July 29, 2008

UFCW Calls on OSHA to Issue a Combustible Dust Standard

Washington, D.C. –  OSHA’s proposed fines of $8.7 million for violations at the Imperial Sugar plant near Savannah, Georgia, where an explosion killed 13 workers in February, and at another plant in Gramercy, Louisiana, magnify the gaps in current OSHA enforcement standards with regard to combustible dust, including a reliance on “general duty” citations and a patchwork of other standards which are limited in scope and do not address such critical considerations as design, maintenance, hazard review and explosion protection.  This action also underscores OSHA’s reluctance to follow the recommendations of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) that may have prevented the tragedy in Georgia and other combustible dust explosions.


The fines also expose OSHA’s inability to monitor the actions of big businesses such as Imperial Sugar.  The explosion in Georgia took place on February 7; however, OSHA inspectors found that the company had not taken immediate steps to mitigate another potential disaster when they inspected the plant in Louisiana a month later.


Earlier this year, the UFCW and the Teamsters called on OSHA to issue an emergency standard on combustible dust, and filed a petition with the U.S. Department of Labor demanding that OSHA follow the 2006 recommendations of the CSB, an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents.


In 2006, the CSB recommended that OSHA issue a rule that would have reduced the possibility of combustible dust explosions.  That year, the CSB conducted a major study of combustible dust hazards, and noted that a quarter of the explosions that occureed between 1980 and 2005 that were identified, occurred at food industry facilities, including sugar refineries.  In only one or two investigations were these incidents caused by mechanical mysteries that were either unforeseen or unpredicted.


Standards and codes have existed for years for OSHA to build upon and eliminate this type of explosion.  In 1987, OSHA issued the Grain Handling Facilities Standard as the result of grain dust explosions in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  This standard has effectively reduced the number and severity of combustible grain dust explosions in the grain handling industry, but stopped short of regulating combustible dust in industries outside of the grain industry.


The UFCW applauds the U.S. House of Representatives for passing legislation to force OSHA to set a combustible dust standard, and urges President Bush to reconsider his veto threat.  OSHA must act now and follow the recommendations of the CSB before more workers are killed or horribly injured.


June 26, 2008

UFCW Staff Testifies Before House Subcommittee on Steps to Improve Chemical Plant Safety and Security

Washington, D.C. –  John S. Morawetz, Director of Health and Safety at the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union’s (UFCW) International Chemical Workers Union Council (ICWUC), testified before the House Subcommittee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection today about steps that can be taken to improve chemical plant safety and security for workers and surrounding communities in light of the recent explosion of a Goodyear plant in Houston earlier this month. The ICWUC represents more than 20,000 chemical workers in 32 states.

Morawetz, who has investigated workplace hazards, injuries and deaths since the early 1980s, testified about the industrial hazards chemical plant workers face on a daily basis, including those who work with petroleum and coal products, fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, pesticides and other agricultural chemicals in smelters and refineries, as well as with natural gas distribution and in power plants.  He called on Congress to increase funding for the Chemical Safety Board and enforce stronger OSHA standards so that incidents linked to chemical hazards can be fully investigated and standards are followed and enforced.  He also underlined the importance of worker involvement in chemical plant security plans, as well as the need for effective training requirements, strong whistleblower protections and safer technology in this industry.

“Chemical workers know first hand how a plant works, what chemicals are used, and any particular facilities’ weaknesses,” Morawetz said.  “All these responsibilities make chemical workers the first line of defense and explain why we strongly believe vast improvements can and must be made in this nation’s chemical security.”

Morawetz also spoke about the UFCW’s commitment to improving workplace safety for all workers by enforcing existing regulations and passing stronger legislation.

“Unions have a proud history of fighting for the right to a safe workplace and for the basic right for workers to return home after a day on the job as healthy as when they left,” he said.  “From workers who are concerned about their safety and health, to union negotiators seeking health and safety contract language, to unions investigating health hazards or testifying in support of legislation, we are actively involved in making our workplaces safer.”

For a copy of Morawetz’s testimony, please contact press@ufcw.org.