SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Stricter safety guidelines are now in place for facilities like the Imperial Sugar Plant. Today, Insurance and Safety Fire commissioner John Oxendine announced new emergency safety regulations which go into effect immediately.
Oxendine says all industries in Georgia will now operate under the latest National Fire Prevention Association guidelines, which he says are more current than OSHA's existing rules.
Emergency plans will be a must, plus better maintenance, more employee training and safety officers will now report to the state on a monthly basis. Oxendine hopes this all prevents what happened February 7 at the Port Wentworth plant from happening again.
One month ago, the Imperial Sugar Refinery suffered the deadliest incident in Georgia in 16 years. "When an individual leaves their family and goes to work, that family should know that family member will be home for dinner," Oxendine told us.
Oxendine says he can't blame the refinery. He believes the law let them down, so he is implementing new, safer measures.
"Imperial Sugar was doing everything they had to do. They were following the standards issued," he said. "What we are doing is changing those standards to make sure they are as safe as possible."
Oxendine says the new regulations cover a series of issues the current OSHA requirements do not. He says the new rules address better cleaning in facilities, plus, require the reduction of dust, including vacuuming.
It also mandates monthly employee training and education and a twice a year emergency drill simulating an explosion similar to what happened at Imperial Sugar, while enforcing an evacuation plan. "This will apply to any industry producing combustible dust, not just Imperial Sugar," Oxendine said.
Oxendine says he went over the head of OSHA to implement these new safety rules. "I haven't really had too many conversations with OSHA," he said. "I think they are upset with me."
Oxendine says after looking into OSHA's guidelines, he saw a lack in safety. "Where OSHA does a lot of good, I think in the area of combustible dust which is non-agricultural, they have failed," he said.
In a few weeks, Oxendine says these new guidelines were put in place. He thinks they could be the standard for all states by the fall, even if it is too late for the families of Imperial Sugar. "That's one thing we are trying to do, see that this isn't repeated," Oxendine said.
Oxendine says he brought these updates to the International Fire Code Committee in San Diego last week, where they could be adopted in September, making them mandatory across the world. Until then, the emergency guidelines will remain in place.
Chatham County Code Enforcement has a full copy of the new regulations to start enforcing.