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Two More Workers Die In Sugar Refinery Blast

Two sugar refinery workers died over the weekend from the February 7th explosion at the Imperial Sugar Plant in Port Wentworth, Georgia.That brings the total number killed in this workplace accident to 11.Twelve remain in critical condition at Doctors’ Hospital in Augusta, Georgia.Two are in serious condition.Over forty workers were injured and released from treatment.

The explosion occurred Thursday night around 7:30 p.m. when plant workers were packaging refined sugar into Dixie Crystal bags.Investigators believe the blast was caused by the accumulation of sugar dust in a basement area beneath the plant’s storage silos. Sugar dust is combustible. While the cause of the ignition is not yet known, stacked and dry sugar could create a static electric charge that could have ignited.

The explosion was so powerful that neighbors thought a bomb went off. Floors inside the plant collapsed, flames spread throughout the building, metal girders buckled, and sheet metal corridors connecting the plant buildings gave way.Molten sugar burned at more than 4000 degrees.Fire crews worked through the night and for several days following to put out the flames.Doors to the plant were glued shut by crystallized sugar sludge.

Dust explosions in industrial plants have killed more than 120 workers over the past three decades.Most accidents are preventable by removing fine dust build-up.The U.S. Chemical Safety Board, which investigates industrial chemical accidents, recommends that OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) issue a comprehensive combustible dust standard.To date, OSHA has not done so.

Imperial Sugar is one of the oldest and largest employers in South Georgia.The plant sits on a 160-acre site along the Savannah River.The plant consists of a warehouse, three silos and several eight-story buildings connected by sheet metal corridors.The Port Wentworth facility turns raw cane sugar into crystal sugar.The plant opened in 1917 and retains much of the original tongue and groove hardwood flooring that contributed to the blaze.Imperial is based in Sugar Land, Texas.It acquired Dixie Crystal Sugar in 1997, making it the largest processor and refiner of sugar in the United States.In 2007 Imperial Sugar reported $360 million in assets.

Generally, when you have been injured in a workplace accident, you are entitled to workers compensation benefits.The amount of recovery, however, may be more limited than in a personal injury claim against a third party.However, workers injured while on the job are entitled to no-fault benefits, meaning proof of the employer’s negligence is not required.

Workplace accidents can cause serious injuries.If you or a loved one have been injured in an accident while on the job, contact the law firm of Robert N. Katz for a free, personal consultation.One of our workers’ compensation attorneys may be able to help you in your claim.