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Wednesday, July 7, 2010 - 6:20am

$6M Fine In Sugar Blast

Federal workplace safety officials have reached an agreement over how much the Imperial Sugar company will pay for violations stemming from a fatal explosion in Georgia two years ago.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration originally wanted to fine the Texas-based sugar maker more than $8 million for hundreds of safety violations at its refineries near Savannah and in Gramercy, La.

After two years of negotiations, company officials said Wednesday, they settled with OSHA for fines totalling a little more than $6 million.

"Imperial Sugar is pleased to resolve the citations," said company CEO and President John Sheptor. "Imperial agreed to the terms with OSHA in order to settle these matters expeditiously and amicably."

Fourteen people died when combustible sugar dust at the Georgia refinery exploded in February of 2008.

Investigators discovered dangerous levels of the dust inside the refinery and faulted the company for lax maintenance and equipment.

Following the investigations, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a measure to strengthen federal regulations on combustible dust, but the bill died in the U.S. Senate.

"This settlement is a step in the right direction because it might help prevent this kind of tragedy from happening again," said U.S. Rep. John Barrow (D-Savannah). "I hope our Senators use this announcement as a call to action and help us pass that bill as soon as they get back to Washington.”

OSHA is expected to release details of the settlement on Wednesday.