The Occupational Safety and Health Administration just can’t seem to adopt new safety regulations to protect workers that deal with hazardous dust and people could die as a result.

In March, 13 workers died at Imperial Sugar Co.’s plant in Port Wentworth, Ga.

This tragedy could have been avoided.

An executive with Imperial testified yesterday before the Senate that he had found “shocking” and “disgraceful” conditions at the facility and warned his superiors that a fatal disaster was likely, according the the Associated Press.

What did his bosses do?

The AP went on to report:

Imperial Sugar Co. executives responded that he was being overzealous and told him to back off, he said. A month later, an explosion ripped through the plant in Port Wentworth, Ga., killing 13 workers and injuring dozens more.

“It was without a doubt the dirtiest and most dangerous manufacturing plant I had ever come to,” said Graham H. Graham, who toured the facility shortly after being hired in November as Imperial’s vice president of operations. “I stated that I believed a fatal disaster would befall the refinery if a fundamental change in the way the plant was operated did not take place.”

The alleged lack of good conscious on the part of these executives may have contributed to the death, but OSHA must also take some of the blame.

Independent federal safety officials in 2006 had urged the government’s main arm protecting worker safety, OSHA, to adopt new standards to protect workers against deadly dust explosions, like the one at Imperial.

But, unfortunately, those new regulations were never adopted. The federal group that urged OSHA to adopt those standards is called the Chemical Safety Board. The Board had been concerned about similar explosions caused by dust at other facilities and in 2003 investigated three horrific cases.

So what’s up OSHA?

According to the AP:

Democrats say the blast — the latest in a series of fatal dust accidents in recent years — highlights the need for new federal safety regulations. The House passed legislation in April that would force OSHA to adopt new standards specifically targeting dust hazards.

But OSHA head Edwin Foulke told the panel that the Imperial findings bolster the Bush administration’s position that regulations aren’t necessarily the cure. Although OSHA has not ruled out a new standard, he said, the investigation shows that existing regulations are broad enough to cover dust hazards.

“It shows … that the system works,” he said. “It wouldn’t have mattered if we had a combustible dust standard. This accident would have happened”

Am I missing something? Why wouldn’t the agency, given to mandate to protect worker safety, not adopt the new standards pronto?

OSHA has fined Imperial $9 million dollars, a fine that will be one of the highest ever imposed on a company.

The nearly $900 million Imperial will likely be able to absorb the fine.

But alas there are 13 families that will never be able to absorb their loss.

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