Saturday, July 26, 2008

Isakson, Chambliss React to Findings of Investigation of Explosion at Imperial Sugar Facility

U.S. Senators Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., today reacted to the findings by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration 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.

“I saw the absolute devastation of the tragic explosion at the Imperial Sugar facility firsthand. From the start of this investigation, it has remained my position that it is Congress’s job to understand fully the fundamental cause of this disaster so we can help prevent future tragedies,” said Isakson. “OSHA’s citation that Imperial Sugar ‘egregiously and willfully’ violated safety and health standards is a severe charge. We will hold a hearing in the Senate next week to get all the facts on the table. I look forward to hearing Imperial Sugar explain its position and to the testimony from all of our witnesses.”

“These are very serious charges, and the families of those whose lives were lost and those who were injured as a result deserve answers,” said Chambliss. “Senator Isakson and I requested an investigation into this matter and next week’s hearing is critically important as we move forward in the process of determining why this happened and what measures can be taken to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.”

Isakson and Chambliss were briefed today by OSHA officials on the details of each violation.

The Feb. 7 explosion at the refinery near Savannah, Ga., resulted in the deaths of 13 people and injured dozens more. The agency proposed $5,062,000 in penalties for safety violations at the Port Wentworth facility. OSHA also proposed $3,715,000 in penalties for safety violations at an Imperial Sugar refinery in Gramercy, La.

On Feb. 15, Isakson and Chambliss met 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, 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. The letter was also signed by Senators Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., and Patty Murray, D-Wash. The OSHA investigation is now complete.

Isakson and Murray are the Ranking Member and Chairwoman of the Senate Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety, which has jurisdiction over OSHA. The subcommittee will hold a hearing on combustible dust on July 29, 2008, at 10 a.m. in Room 430 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building. Chambliss will also participate in the hearing. No legislation will be considered at the hearing.

OSHA Administrator Ed Foulke will present his agency’s findings. Also testifying will be U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board Chairman and CEO John Bresland, National Fire Protection Agency Senior Chemical Engineer Amy Spencer and Richard Prugh of Chilworth Technologies, who is an expert on combustible dust. Graham Graham, Vice President of Operations for Imperial Sugar, will testify on his own behalf.

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