Today in Workplace Safety: Imperial Sugar and Kleen Energy

Jordan Barab

Jordan Barab Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor, OSHA

February 7 was a bad day for worker safety.

On February 7, 2008, 14 workers were killed and 38 were injured — many with severe burns — when the Imperial Sugar plant in Port Wentworth, Georgia exploded as a result of combustible dust accumulations.

Exactly two years later, on February 7, 2010, 6 workers were killed and at least 50 injured when the Kleen Energy power plant in Middletown, CT exploded after natural gas was used to blow debris from the plant’s pipes.

I remember both of those tragedies well. I was working in the House of Representatives when news of Imperial Sugar came across my desk, and snowed in on Superbowl Sunday during “Snowmageddon” when the Kleen Energy plant exploded.

Both of these tragedies were easily preventable. The hazards of combustible dust were well known, and massive accumulations of combustible sugar dust existed throughout the packaging building prior to the explosion.  Similarly, the hazards of using huge amounts of natural gas to blow debris from a power plant under construction were well known. Also well know was that all potential sources of ignition had to be eliminated before the blow — yet potential ignition sources from welding, electrical equipment and other practices had not been eliminated in an attempt to finish construction of the plant on schedule.

The Chemical Safety Board’s (CSB) report on the Imperial Sugar investigation can be found here, and the CSB’s full combustible dust report can be found here. The CSB’s report on Kleen Energy can be found here.

The Imperial Sugar explosion along with CSB reports eventually led to a combustible dust emphasis program at OSHA, legislation that passed the House of Representatives that would have required OSHA to issue a combustible dust standard, and eventually, regulatory activity at OSHA.  It is one of my biggest regrets that we were not able to finish that rulemaking during the Obama administration, and the Trump administration has since removed combustible dust from the regulatory agenda.

Although OSHA never took action on natural gas blows, the industry discontinued the practice following the Kleen Energy explosion.

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The Call for a General Strike

Richard Cucarese

Richard Cucarese Rapid Response Coordinator, USW Local 4889

It’s been only a few weeks since Labor pushed back against the longest, most punishing government shutdown in recent history, but sadly, over the jubilant cheers of victory, the ominous drumbeats of Congress warring in the trenches could be heard again, leaving 800,00 AFGE members pondering if they’ll be furloughed once more.

President Trump’s decided that the ‘Wall to Nowhere’ will be the hill to die on in this inane battle of attrition, government workers livelihoods be damned.  Keeping this in mind, the ominous question should be how much longer will it be before Trump and the entitled imperialists of D.C. realpolitik turn their sights towards millions of American workers, over 40% of whom, according to CBS News data, are one missed paycheck away from poverty?

As we suffer under the grim reality of decades long wage stagnation, no calls for a realistic minimum wage increase to keep the One Percent’s vulture bankers from our doors, nor a social program of Medicare For All, easing the burden of burgeoning medical costs overrunning the populous meager discretionary incomes, the powers that be seem more than willing to shutter government again, leaving scores unemployed, airport safety and security in perilous shape and costing the taxpayers $3 billion to do so.

And while Congress apparently shows no guilt spending an inconceivable $1.45 trillion dollars for 2018/19, to voluntarily spill blood in every conceivable corner of the globe promoting crony capitalism, strong armed acquisition of natural resources and the continuation of imperialistic follies, the long suffering American worker is left sifting through the rubble, limping through countless miles of crumbling infrastructure, closed factories, failing schools, bankrupting college loan payments, mass shootings and scores of broken dreams, leading to shortened life expectancy, drug overdoses and suicides.

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