Isakson, Chambliss call for OSHA regulations on combustible dust

From U.S. Senators Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga:

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senators Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., today called on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to establish regulations regarding combustible dust after the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board announced its findings regarding the Feb. 7, 2008, explosion at the Imperial Sugar refinery in Port Wentworth, Ga.

Isakson and Chambliss were briefed by Chemical Safety Board officials regarding its final investigative report on the causes of the Feb. 7, 2008, explosion at the refinery near Savannah, Ga., that resulted in the deaths of 14 people and injuries to dozens more. Both senators also spoke with Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis this week to urge her department to begin its comprehensive rulemaking on combustible dust.

"I believe we should embrace the findings of the Chemical Safety Board, including the recommendation that OSHA establish mandatory standards modeled after the National Fire Protection Association guidelines," Isakson said. "Sen. Chambliss and I are working closely with Secretary Solis to ensure that the lessons we have learned as a result of the Port Wentworth disaster will help us prevent future tragedies. The best available science, the experience of stakeholders and the notice-and-comment process should all play a key role in developing these much-needed regulations."

"After receiving the Chemical Safety Board's briefing, I believe it is clear that we must move forward with its recommendations for OSHA to establish regulations modeled after the National Fire Protection Association guidelines,"
said Chambliss. "As public servants, it is our responsibility to do everything we can from a federal standpoint to ensure this type of tragedy never occurs again."

Chemical Safety Board investigators determined that the initial explosion originated inside an enclosed steel conveyor belt that was not properly designed to protect employees from dust explosion hazards. Those investigators also concluded that a series of massive secondary explosions could have been prevented if Imperial Sugar had maintained routine housekeeping procedures and removed "large accumulations of spilled sugar throughout the packing buildings."

On July 25, 2008, OSHA found that Imperial Sugar "egregiously and willfully" violated safety and health standards by allowing excessive amounts of combustible dust to collect in its Port Wentworth facility. The agency has proposed $5,062,000 in penalties for safety violations at the Port Wentworth facility. OSHA also has proposed another $3,715,000 in penalties for safety violations at an Imperial Sugar refinery in Gramercy, La.

On Feb. 15, 2008, Isakson and Chambliss went to Savannah to meet with Imperial Sugar employees as well as the families of workers who died or suffered injuries. Isakson and Chambliss also toured the exterior of the facility.

On Feb. 13, 2008, Isakson and Chambliss sent a letter to the U.S. Secretary of Labor and the interim executive of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, urging them to begin a comprehensive investigation of the Feb. 7 explosion. Both investigations are now complete.