Imperial Sugar explosion update

Last month America’s 60 Minutes broadcast an article on the explosion at the Imperial Sugar plant (pictured below) in Port Wentworth which killed 13 workers and hospitalised 40.  On 25 July 2008, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued citations proposing penalties totalling $8,777,500 against the Imperial Sugar Co. and its two affiliates alleging violations at their plants in Port Wentworth and Gramercy. 

The US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has released some details about its appearance at the US Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety, Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, on 29 July 2008. (Transcripts and video are available HERE)

CSB Chairman John Bresland said the tragedy demonstrates the need for a new OSHA standard that would cover a range of industries exposed to this hazard, such as food, chemicals, plastics, automotive parts, pharmaceuticals, electrical power (where generated by coal) and others.
According to the CSB, Chairman Bresland told the subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Patty Murray of Washington,

‘After witnessing the terrible human and physical toll from the Imperial explosion, I believe the urgency of a new combustible dust standard is greater than ever. A new standard, combined with enforcement and education, will save workers’ lives.’
‘We obtained documents indicating that certain parts of Imperial’s milling process were releasing tens of thousands of pounds of sugar per month into the work area. Based on our evidence, Imperial did not have a written dust control program or a program for using safe dust removal methods. And the company lacked a formal training program to educate its workers about combustible dust hazards.’

Bresland emphasised the need for a uniform Federal standard:

‘Instead of the present patchwork of miscellaneous federal, state, and local requirements, the Chemical Safety Board has recommended that OSHA develop a single, comprehensive, uniform standard – based on the sound, consensus-based technical principles and practices that are embodied in NFPA standards,’ Chairman Bresland said.  ‘Ambiguities in the NFPA standards need to be resolved in clear, enforceable regulations developed by a thorough, public rulemaking process.’

 

 

Formaldehyde risks of temporary accommodation

There is continuing concern in the United States about the thousands of claims of health problems by survivors of Hurricane Katrina related to living in trailers provided to them by the government. (A 23 July 2008 podcast includes a mention of this issue but the relevant information is within the first 3 minutes)  The problem is that residents were exposed to toxic levels of formaldehyde.

This may sound familiar to some Australian OHS professionals as similar claims were made over formaldehyde exposure in temporary housing for government workers who were participating in the Federal government’s indigenous intervention program.  The ABC reported that the government investigation found 

“department’s response to the complaints was slow and inappropriate given the seriousness of the health risk.”

An earlier report on this matter containing commitments to health and safety by the Minister is available HERE

The full report by Tony Blunn is available for download as is the relevant media statement by Jenny Macklin, the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.

Texas Crane Collapse

Large cranes are now a basic tool for high-rise construction.  Over the last six months the United States has had several crane collapses.  The latest occurred in Texas on 19 July 2008 and involved a mobile crane.  The collapse resulted in four deaths and injuries to seven workers.  Fed-OSHA is investigating but as this is the latest in a run of collapses there is increased media attention.

According to the most recent media statement by the company that owned the crane, Deep South Crane & Rigging

“The Deep South Crane and Rigging Company experienced a tragic industrial accident yesterday in Houston, TX, that resulted in the death of four members of our company family. Our thoughts and prayers are focused on our deceased co-workers, their families and friends, and the extended Deep South Crane and Rigging family.

We wish we had all of the answers on what happened and why – but we do not – and speculating on cause would not resolve anything. But we are actively working to find those answers. We are fully engaged and cooperating with OSHA in their investigation of the accident. Our common goal is to identify the root cause, correct any issue that may be found, and ensure that this type of tragic accident does not occur again.”

According to one article:

“An Associated Press analysis in June found that cities and states have wildly varying rules governing construction cranes, and some have no regulations at all, choosing instead to rely on federal guidelines dating back nearly 40 years that some experts say have not kept up with technological advances.”

Video and audio reports on the incident are available through the links below.  SafetyAtWorkBlog will be reporting on any new information about the investigations

Company representative – http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/front/5896374.html  

Crane investigations – http://www.khou.com/video/index.html?nvid=264952 

Crane investigations/”competent person” – http://kut.org/items/show/13389

Beaconsfield Coronial Inquest Walkout

On 22 July 2008 the Tasmanian Coroner continued with his inquest into the death of Larry Knight at the Beaconsfield mine on 25 April 2006. Shortly after the start the legal team representing the mine walked out. Newspaper, radio and TV have covered this extraordinary development. Other reports in SafetyAtWorkBlog told of the lawyers’ attempts…

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Australian Level Crossings – Part 2

The Victorian Government’s investigation into level crossing safety is continuing. Yesterday the Parliamentary Committee on Road Safety ran a seminar on technological issues related to level crossings. Today (22 July 2008 ) I attended the morning session of a seminar on Fail-Safe technologies. The meat of today’s seminar was to be an open and frank…

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OHS in the 1970’s

Matthew Knott’s article in the Australian newspaper (21 July 2008 ) included telling comments from  Barry Willis, a 64-year-old former maintenance worker at Amberley air force base.  The article says

“workplace health and safety was non-existent: open cans of chemical sealant were stored in the refrigerators where the men kept their lunch.”

I have been critical of the military in the past as they are usually well-sourced on OHS and often speak proudly of their approach to safety.  Yet just as with the BlackHawk Inquiry findings criticising the safety culture, Barry Willis saw no safety culture in the 1970s.

At the risk of sounding like an old grump, working in that decade was under a different set of cultural rules.  Modern OHS legislation was being considered by most Western jurisdictions and industrial diseases were coming to the fore.  In the early 1980’s I worked in industrial relations concerning award restructuring.  One of the first elements to be restructured was allowances, many of them accurately described as “danger money” – removing roadkill, working at heights, confined spaces and a range of other hazards.

It can be argued that modern salary levels incorporate allowances for hazardous work but the issue of immediate compensation for a dirty or hazardous job, hopefully, has had its day.

Sadly, for people like Barry Willis, the consequences of a hazard, known or discounted, continue and the struggle for acknowledgement and compensation continues.

Corrosion at Varanus Island

In mid-July 2008, the West Australian Liberal Party detailed leaked correspondence concerning the maintenance program at the Apache Energy facility at Varanus Island.  In the letter from July 2007, the director of petroleum and major hazard facilities, Richard Craddock, said

“The Five-Year Integrity Review report does not objectively demonstrate that the … pipeline complies with the conditions of … licence PL17, the variations under PL17 and the primary technical standard AS2885.”

The letter identified several areas of attention – pipeline integrity, corrosion and safety management.

A spokesman for Energy Minister Fran Logan said the issues raised were about a mainland pipeline however he also said that the Department of Industrial Relations “did raise the issues that were raised with Apache.”

Economic forecasts by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA said the pipeline explosion on Varanus Island had lead to a $6.7 billion reduction in business production and a $2.4 billion negative impact on the general WA economy.   

Other reports are emerging over interdepartmental disputes in the area of enforcement of pipelines.

Other reports on the Varanus Island explosion are available in this blog by search “Varanus” in the search field on this page.

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