Posts Tagged ‘Imperial Sugar’

Inferno: Combustible dust explosion at Imperial Sugar – video report

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

We recently posted about the Imperial Sugar Company explosion report issued by the US Chemical Safety Board, but more recently we found a video version, which we think is well worth the nine and a half minutes it takes to view it. Using computer graphics, it clearly explains how the accident happened and the conditions that led to it. It should be mandatory viewing by the 100,000 at-risk organizations that have the potential for such explosions, but think “it can’t happen here.”

Imperial Sugar Refinery report: routine housekeeping might have prevented explosion

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

A year and a half after the Imperial Sugar combustible dust explosion, the Chemical Safety Board (CSB) issued its final report on the explosion, which killed 14 workers and injured 36 others, leaving some with permanent, life-altering conditions. In short, the CSB found inadequate housekeeping and maintenance, largely preventable conditions. In addition, CSB found inadequate emergency evacuation plans. The linked article from WTOC-TV above has a summary with photos, as well as related stories. Or you can read the entire 89-page Investigation Report – Sugar Dust Explosion and Fire – Imperial Sugar Company (PDF).
The initial explosion occurred in a closed steel conveyor belt, triggering a series of secondary explosions and fireball eruptions throughout the buildings. The fatalities occurred in the secondary explosions.
Last year, OSHA proposed $8.7 million in fines on the company for more than 100 violations, fines that Imperial Sugar is currently battling in court.
As part of the report, the CSB recommended that OSHA establish mandatory standards for combustible dust. Critics say that this recommendation isn’t strong enough, and that OSHA’s current rule making process will take too long. They note that under a federal workplace safety law, OSHA can adopt an emergency temporary standard, which would circumvent the red tape to get something in place quickly.
A good source of information on combustible dust is the Combustable Dust Policy Institute blog. This blog states that although OSHA lists 30,000 facilities in its National Emphasis Program, there are actually more than 100,000 facilities at risk, which includes many national industries not listed in the Dust NEP. They track media accounts of combustible dust incidents, and found that last year, about 50% of the incidents occurred in national industries not referenced in the OSHA’s dust NEP. Another source of information that we turn to on combustible dust and other public health issues is the excellent blog, The Pump Handle, which provides informed commentary from experts.
For another perspective on the Imperial Sugar explosion, the Joseph M. Stiller Burn Center included Battling Big Burns: The Imperial Sugar Company Fire (PDF) in its summer 2008 newsletter. The article offers an overview of the complexity of issues involved in managing large disasters, including issues directly related to caring for critically burned patients.

Safety blog coverage of the sugar refinery explosion: frustration with OSHA

Monday, February 11th, 2008

We sorely miss Jordan Barab‘s participation in the safety blogosphere – he was a tireless crusader for workplace safety. Whenever a work tragedy occurred, such as last week’s Imperial Sugar Refinery explosion that claimed the lives of 6 workers, we could always count on Jordan to offer details and expertise on the matter that couldn’t be found elsewhere. So we have been pleased to note the emergence of a few new blogs that have stepped up to the plate.
OSHA Underground provides both knowledge of OSHA and technical expertise about a variety of work safety issues. It’s quite obviously the blog of a frustrated insider, KANE, who is vocal about diminishing OSHA resources and lack of agency leadership at the top. On Friday, KANE blogged the refinery explosion, noting that the Chemical Board had previously identified explosive dust hazards as a safety issue that needed to be addressed by OSHA. KANE also posted a list of OSHA’s comprehensive refinery inspections since March 2007, and a letter from Congressman Miller to Elaine Chao calling OSHA to task for not having enacted a standard to prevent combustible dust explosions, as recommended by the Chemical Safety Board (CSB) in November 2006. Miller notes that the CSB report identified 281 combustible dust incidents between 1980 and 2005 that killed 119 workers and injured 718.
The Pump Handle, another blog that is addressing work safety issues, also weighs in on the Imperial Refinery explosion, noting that this is the second catastrophic industrial explosion involving multiple fatalities in two months. In his post, Francis Hamilton Rammazzocchi runs through the frustrating history of the Chemical Board’s recommendations to OSHA that might have prevented such tragedies: The [Chemical] Board found that “Reactive incidents are a significant chemical safety problem,” but that OSHA’s Process Safety Management standard “has significant gaps in coverage of reactive hazards.” The Board therefore unanimously recommended that OSHA “Amend the Process Safety Management (PSM) Standard, 29 CFR 1910.119, to achieve more comprehensive control of reactive hazards that could have catastrophic consequences.”
And the response since this prescient recommendation?

More than five years after the CSB’s recommendation was issued, OSHA has refused to act. In typical Bush Administration fashion, instead of revising the PSM regulation, OSHA established an “Alliance” of chemical industry associations and published a reactive chemical webpage. The Alliance involved setting up booths at chemical industry conferences, occasional presentations about Alliance activities, and two actual training workshops that trained a total of 36 students. In 2004, the CSB evaluated OSHA’s response and judged it “unacceptable,” and the Alliance was terminated in March 2007. Rammazzocchi also faults the media for its pallid coverage and their lack of any call for accountability. He notes that despite being “hip deep in an election year,” candidates haven’t been questioned in any public forums about their stance on the regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA and whether they will call for the agencies do the jobs that they were intended to do.
We’ve taken OSHA to task more than once for its recent hands-off attitude to safety regulations and enforcement. While no one likes bureaucracy, self regulation by industry insiders, or what some refer to as “the foxes guarding the hen-house” approach, clearly isn’t sufficient to ensure worker – and public – safety.