Industryweek 1808 15948sugarrefineryfire

Refinery Blast Reinforces Calls for Process Safety

March 9, 2008
OSHA forms new alliance to address hazards.

A February 2008 explosion that left at least six dead at a sugar refinery in Georgia served as a grim reminder of the dangers present within process industries. Just weeks before the disaster the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) highlighted the need for safety improvements at process plants when it partnered with the Process Safety Alliance to develop safety information, guidance and access to training resources for the industry.

The refinery fire seemed to reinforce comments made when OSHA announced the new alliance on Jan. 23. "Those working in the chemical and petroleum industries face significant hazards daily as they mix, manufacture and package a variety of dangerous compounds," observes Edwin Foulke, OSHA assistant secretary.

"The broad participation of chemical and refining trade associations, technical associations, the Environmental Protection Agency and OSHA underscores the common interest shared by the industry and government in protecting workers, communities and the environment against catastrophic fires, explosions and toxic releases," says Scott Berger, director of the Center for Chemical Process Safety.

Explosions such as this one at the Imperial Sugar refinery in Georgia have raised concerns about safety within process industries. John Sheptor, president and CEO of the refinery, Imperial Sugar, explained in published reports that sugar dust in a silo used to store refined sugar before packaging likely ignited. On Feb. 8 the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) said it was deploying an investigative team to the site in Port Wentworth, Ga., near Savannah, to assess the situation.

The CSB completed a study in November 2006 that identified 281 combustible dust incidents at U.S. plants between 1980 and 2005 that killed 119 workers and injured 718, and extensively damaged industrial facilities. The food industry, including several sugar plants, accounted for 24% of the explosions.

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