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    Imperial Sugar Co.

July 28, 2008

UFCW Calls on OSHA to Issue a Combustile 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.

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The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) represents more than 1.3 million workers, primarily in the retail and meatpacking, food processing and poultry industries. The UFCW protects the rights of workers and strengthens America’s middle class by fighting for health care reform, immigration reform, living wages, retirement security, safe working conditions and the right to unionize so that working men and women and their families can realize the American Dream. For more information about the UFCW’s effort to protect workers’ rights and strengthen America’s middle class, visit www.ufcw.org.

April 3, 2008

CHAO AND OSHA: TOO LITTLE TOO LATE

The Bush Administration’s Department of Labor in a Hurricane-Katrina-like response is visiting the Savannah, Georgia, Imperial Sugar plant today after an explosion more than three weeks ago killed 12 workers and left others critically burned.

Prior to the sugar plant explosion, OSHA ignored the recommendations of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) to issue a rule that could have reduced the possibility of the explosion here and at other sugar plants.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters filed a petition on February 20, 2008, with the U.S. Department of Labor demanding that OSHA issue an emergency standard on this risk.

The petition called upon OSHA to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard which requires immediate controls instituted by employers where combustible dust hazards exist. The petition also calls upon OSHA to put a new Permanent Standard in place for control of combustible dust hazards in general industry; inspect sugar processing plants; and implement a Special Emphasis Program on combustible dust hazards in a wide range of industries where combustible dust hazards exist.

The UFCW represents hundreds of workers in sugar plants around the country, including the Domino Sugar plant in Baltimore, Maryland. UFCW members at the Domino plant narrowly escaped harm last November after a combustible dust explosion rocked the facility. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters represents nearly 500 members who are employed at eight sugar processing facilities throughout the United States.

The explosions could have been prevented had OSHA heeded the recommendations made by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board made in November 2006. That year, the CSB conducted a major study of combustible dust hazards following three worksite catastrophic dust explosions that killed 14 workers in 2003. The CSB report noted that a quarter of the explosions that occurred between 1980 and 2005 that were identified, occurred at food industry facilities, including sugar plants.

OSHA’s Katrina-like inaction on this workplace risk follows a pattern of the agency ignoring scientific evidence and its own rule-making guidelines. By law, OSHA was supposed to respond to the CSB’s recommendations within six months.

A full copy of the petition can be downloaded here.