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Imperial Sugar Accident Prompts More Discussion About Dust Regulations

Imperial Sugar Accident Prompts More Discussion About Dust Regulation

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It's been more than five years since the explosion at Imperial Sugar killed 14 workers and injured others. It was advised that safety standards on combustible dust should be adopted to prevent future tragedies.

Today, the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) called the response of another federal agency "unacceptable" in terms of implementing the standards. CSB saying that Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) needed to do more to make sure the standards become a reality in the workplace.

At a public hearing in Washington, Robiin Robbins, representing the United Food and Commercial Workers said the Imperial Sugar deaths and others that have occurred since the 2008 tragedy were preventable. "We don't know when the next combustible incident will occur, later today, next week," she said. "But we need a single standard to provide clarity for employers and increase safety for workers."

She went on to say that there has been an "unfortunate history of delays while dust fires and explosions could occur. The time for a standard on combustible dust is now. But more importantly OSHA must be allowed to do its job."

The hearing included testimony from others representing workers at factories and plants throughout the country. One testifying that the deaths at Imperial Sugar and an explosion in 2009 at Conagra were "preventable. Every single time it happens, it comes out later that it was entirely preventable."

Later, letters were written as part of the testimony, including one that said "Imperial sugar is one of the best arguments ever for supporting combustible dust regulations. "People still dying from dust explosions and there are no repercussions, its just the cost of doing business and the government is giving businesses a green light."

The CSB took the rare step of designating a combustible dust standard as the agency's first "Most Wanted Safety Improvement". The agency's website said that will make combustible dust the subject of more intense agency advocacy efforts.

OSHA representatives testified at the hearing saying that while the new standards may not yet be official, that many steps had been taken to increase worker safety.

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