Subject: [SocialistWorker.org] Behind deadly factory blast in Georgia
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======== BEHIND DEADLY FACTORY BLAST IN GEORGIA ==============================
By Elizabeth Schulte | February 15, 2008 | Issue 662
THE UNIDENTIFIED remains of at least six workers were recovered by emergency
workers going through the still-smoldering debris after an explosion at the
Dixie Crystal sugar refinery in Port Wentworth, Ga. Another 44 workers were
injured, many with severe burns.
The cause of the blast on February 7 is yet to be determined, but is likely
the result of combustible sugar dust ignited by a spark of some kind. The
explosion rocked the buildings surrounding the plant, and residents across
the river in South Carolina reported feeling their homes shake.
Workers who escaped the inferno--118 were in the plant at the time--described
walls vaporizing before their eyes. "I saw people come running out burnt,
screaming, hollering, their skin hanging off them," Jason Perry, who rushed
to the plant to find his uncle who was working that night, told the /New York
Times/. "It was raining debris, iron, sheet metal. Everything from the boiler
to the river is gone."
The plant, which opened in 1917, was owned by Texas-based Imperial Sugar, the
largest processor and refiner of sugar in the U.S. and a major employer in
Rescue efforts were stalled in the days after the blast when the building was
flooded with eight feet of water, putting the structure in danger of collapse
at any moment. The heat from the fire was so great that the sugar melted and
A firefighter told the Associated Press that his search team had to use power
tools to tear down a door that was sealed shut. "As you've got sugar that's
crystallizing and running down the chutes, it's like concrete," said
Savannah-Chatham County police Sgt. Mike Wilson.
Georgia Fire Commissioner John Oxendine told Reuters, "I've been state fire
commissioner for 14 years, and this is the worst industrial accident that
we've had in that history."
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THIS CALAMITY highlights the terrible, yet avoidable, dangers that exist in
workplaces across the country.
According to 2006 study released by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB),
explosions caused by combustible dust were responsible for killing 119 people
and injuring 718 others in at least 281 blasts from 1980 to 2005.
Combustible dust is found in plants that manufacture powders such as
cornstarch, or workplaces where wood or metal surfaces are shaped or
polished. Tiny dust particles can form clouds in enclosed places, and a spark
can ignite them. The smaller the particles, the worse the explosion.
Even very small amounts of powder are potentially combustible. For instance,
a 2003 explosion that destroyed a pharmaceutical plant in North Carolina,
killing six employees, was caused by a dust accumulation estimated to be less
than one-quarter inch deep, according to the CSB report.
"The biggest problems we have in plants is that people are not aware of the
amount of dust that's in their plant," C. James Dahn, president of Safety
Consulting Engineers and an expert on the topic, told AP. "I've walked into
plants where dust is nearly half a foot deep, and people are saying, 'It's
just dust, we don't worry about it.' They did when it blew the plant apart."
In 2003, several high-profile dust explosions led the CSB to recommend that
employers follow more stringent rules. Despite the fact that combustible dust
explosions can be prevented by removing fine-grain dust as it builds up, the
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which is supposed to be
a watchdog for workplace safety, has no rules requiring it.
OSHA has dust regulations for grain silos and plants that have been shown to
be effective in preventing explosions, but it hasn't put requirements in
place for other plants that face similarly dangerous conditions.
Since taking office, the Bush administration has chipped away at OSHA,
limiting the institution of new regulations and rolling back existing ones.
During the Bush years, OSHA has issued the fewest significant standards in
For example, although OSHA has repeatedly identified silica dust, which can
cause lung cancer, as a health hazard that warrants a new regulation, it has
yet to put a new rule in place.
OSHA chief Edwin Foulke Jr., a Bush appointee, described himself as a "true
Ronald Reagan Republican" who "firmly believes in limited government." Before
heading OSHA, he worked for a Greenville, S.C., law firm that advises
companies on how to avoid union organizing.
It is little wonder the agency stresses a "voluntary compliance strategy,"
which relies on industry associations and companies to police themselves. The
outcome of this strategy--more death and injury on the job--was predictable.
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