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OSHA To Give Report On Sugar Refinery Blast

Imperial Sugar CEO said there may be 'significant' penalties proposed when regulators release their findings after investigating a dust explosion that killed 13 workers.

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) -- Imperial Sugar CEO John Sheptor said there may be "significant" penalties proposed when federal workplace safety regulators released their findings after investigating a dust explosion that killed 13 workers at a company sugar refinery.

With the investigation into the Feb. 7 explosion complete, Edwin G. Foulke Jr., head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, was scheduled to release the agency's findings Friday.

OSHA spokeswoman Sharon Worthy said regulators "conducted a thorough and complete investigation." Worthy would not comment on whether OSHA was issuing citations or proposing fines against Sugar Land, Texas-based Imperial Sugar Co., which owns the 90-year-old refinery.

But Sheptor predicted "the allegations in the citations and the penalties proposed by OSHA may be significant."

The company will have 15 days to contest any citations and penalties OSHA proposes. Sheptor said Thursday that Imperial Sugar will evaluate OSHA's findings carefully.

"Whether or not we agree with OSHA on the citations, we share the same goal," Sheptor said, "which is the safety of all our employees and contractors."

An initial investigation traced the explosion to sugar dust that ignited like gunpowder in a basement area, used to load sugar onto conveyor belts to be transported for packaging, beneath the refinery's 100-foot storage silos. In addition to the 13 killed, dozens of other workers were injured at the refinery in Port Wentworth, a few miles outside Savannah.

Three workers remain hospitalized with severe burns at the Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Augusta. Two are still in critical condition, while the third is in good condition, spokeswoman Beth Frits said Thursday.

OSHA will release its report days before a Senate subcommittee holds a Tuesday hearing on combustible dust hazards focused on the Georgia explosion.

The House has passed a bill, co-sponsored by Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga., in response to the explosion to force OSHA to adopt stricter standards on dust hazards. OSHA officials say existing regulations already cover them and rushing to enact new ones won't necessarily make workplaces safer.

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