Barrow praises crackdown on combustible dust hazard

Friday, May 1, 2009 5:20 AM
Last updated 8:16 PM
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U.S. Rep. John Barrow has praised an effort to tighten rules on combustible dust, which fueled last year's deadly disaster at a local Imperial Sugar Co. refinery.

"I'm very encouraged," the 12th District Democrat said Thursday following an initiative by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

OSHA said Wednesday that it has begun "comprehensive rule making" to tighten regulations governing the highly flammable substance.

Investigators say sugar-dust buildup helped cause explosions and a fire at Imperial Sugar's Port Wentworth plant. The Feb. 7, 2008, inferno killed 14 people and injured many others.

OSHA cited that disaster and others in its announcement Wednesday, which heralds a tougher worker-safety posture under President Barack Obama.

President George W. Bush had balked at recommendations that OSHA adopt stricter dust standards.

After the Imperial Sugar calamity, the U.S. House passed legislation - co-authored by Barrow - that would require OSHA to do so.

The bill stalled in the U.S. Senate after the White House said Bush would veto it if the measure passed. It was reintroduced earlier this year.

"After last year's tragedy at Imperial Sugar, I've been working to make this happen," Barrow said. "We passed a bill in the House last year to get this done, but I've always said I don't care whether it comes from Congress or the administration, just as long as it gets done."

Barrow spokeswoman Jane Brodsky said Barrow will suspend efforts to get the bill passed while the OSHA rule-making process unfolds.

"The bill doesn't go away," Brodsky said. "The congressman is going to continue to monitor the situation. But there is no need for the bill if the rule-making goes ahead satisfactorily."

So far, OSHA has supplied few details of the rule-making process, which typically takes many months and sometimes years.

OSHA spokeswoman Diana Petterson said preliminary paperwork, which could lead to a timetable for early stages of the process, will be filed "soon."

Meanwhile, OSHA is seeking to fine Imperial $8.8 million for more than 200 alleged safety violations at Port Wentworth and at the company's refinery in Gramercy, La.

Imperial, which is appealing the fines, pledged enthusiastic support for the proposed new standards.

Imperial President and CEO John Sheptor called the agency's initiative a "milestone step."

"We have advocated for such a regulation since our ... tragedy as a critical catalyst to transform the way that dust is managed across numerous U.S. industries," Sheptor said.

He said Imperial has teamed up with other firms to analyze sugar-dust hazards and to develop new design standards for sugar processing.

"We will be early adopters of this new OSHA standard and assume a leadership role in encouraging improved risk management techniques within our industry," Sheptor said.

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treerock
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treerock 05/01/09 - 06:17 am
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you leave them alone barrow

you leave them alone barrow and stop sticking your nose in private business. desist from trying to force them to be safe. the free market will make them do it or run them out of business.

FreedomAndSafetyForAll
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FreedomAndSafetyForAll 05/05/09 - 11:18 am
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Treerock, your comment

Treerock, your comment saddens me and countless others who have lost loved ones at work. How many lives have to be lost before "the free market will make them do it or run them out of business"? Even 1 life is too costly. You are ignorant about the thousands of accidents which happen daily and the tens of employees who lose their lives at work each day. Most accidents are very preventable. If OSHA or Barrow didn't create regulations, most companies would not change their policies or procedures. Regulations bring about change quickly to industries rather than by an individual company's "good will" or accident. These regulations are there to bring about reform and inform the ignorant. One accident does not just affect the one employee or the one company it has a ripple affect on everyone. One injured employee has a mother and father who are affected, a wife/husband, sister, brother, son, daughter, friend, neighbor, co-workers and countless others may depend on that one employee for something. Treerock, who depends on you? If you had accident, who would you affect? Would you be ok if the accident was preventable and the company did nothing to prevent it, because it wasn't required?

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