Western Sugar Cooperative faces about $116,000 in fines after recent inspections spurred by an employee death turned up numerous safety violations in the company’s Billings plant.
The United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued nine citations to the Colorado-based cooperative that were deemed “serious” or “repeat.” The citations carry fines totaling $115,900, a Department of Labor news release said.
The five serious violations include fall hazards, unguarded floor holes and electrical equipment not approved for use in areas where coal dust can collect. The four repeat violations involve the use of temporary wiring, excess buildup of combustible coal dust, unguarded shaft ends and open electrical junction boxes.
“Western Sugar Cooperative should have been addressing these hazards before OSHA got involved,” said Art Hazen, OSHA’s Billings area director, in the release. “The violations are particularly frustrating given that these are some of the same hazards we found during a prior investigation.”
Hazen said the recent investigation resulted from the Oct. 4 death of Matthew Boyer in the Billings factory.
Boyer, 34, was a foreman in the pulp drying area of the plant. Jack Boyer, Matthew Boyer’s father, told The Gazette his son reported several safety concerns to the plant manager just days before his death.
Western Sugar Cooperative’s safety problems began years before Boyer died. OSHA placed Western Sugar Cooperative in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program in 2013 after 17 health and safety violations were discovered. The designation allows OSHA to perform unannounced follow-up inspections at any time.
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Anfesa Galaktionoff, 28, died in the cooperative’s Lovell plant on Jan. 4, 2014, when she fell through a floor opening into processing equipment. Western Sugar paid $44,500 in fines related to her death.
A Billings plant employee suffered injuries on Aug. 15, 2014, that resulted in $12,000 in fines. Sugar fell on the man’s head while he cleaned a concrete bin with other workers. OSHA reduced the fines to $6,000 after Western Sugar created a plan to reduce safety risks in the plant’s sugar bin area.
Kent Wimmer, Western Sugar Cooperative spokesperson, said the farmer-owned company is already working to address safety concerns in the Billings facility.
“We’ll most likely request an informal conference with OSHA, and we’ll sit down in detail with each of the citations and work with OSHA to best resolve those,” Wimmer said.
Hazen said Western Sugar cooperated throughout the investigation and that he's not aware of any work-related injuries in the Billings plant since the death in October.
He said the company can challenge the citations or work out a settlement. The fines could change during future negotiations.
“They could be reduced in the settlement if they come up with some sort of enhanced abatement. Sometimes to settle it we reduce the penalties,” Hazen said.