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OSHA’s visit to Imperial Sugar too late, unions say

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

OSHA has announced it will conduct combustible dust inspections at thousands of U.S. factories in the wake of an explosion at the Imperial Sugar refinery in Port Wentworth that left 12 workers dead and dozens badly injured. A preliminary investigation revealed the Feb. 7 blast was caused by airborne sugar dust in a basement area beneath three massive storage silos. Investigators have not determined what ignited the dust.

U.S. Reps. John Barrow, D-Ga., and George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, announced plans to introduce a bill to force OSHA to issue emergency regulations governing industrial dust.

OSHA issued combustible dust standards for the grain industry after a series of explosions in the 1980s, but failed to extend those standards to other industries, despite urging from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board. In the wake of the tragedy at Imperial Sugar, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters petitioned OSHA to address the problem.

“It’s great that they’re down there looking at this plant in Georgia after people died and were burned to death,” said Robyn Robbins, assistant director of the UFCW’s occupational safety and health office. “But what were they doing before this happened?”

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