Imperial Sugar Explosion: 14 Years Later
It’s now been 14 years since a tragedy shook Port Wentworth. Fourteen lives were taken and several others were injured after the Imperial Sugar Refinery exploded.
On February 7, 2008, at about 7:15 p.m., a series of sugar dust explosions rocked the Imperial Sugar manufacturing facility. Eight workers died at the scene and six others eventually succumbed to their injuries; thirty six workers were treated for serious burns and injuries—some caused permanent, life altering conditions.
The explosions and subsequent fires destroyed the sugar packing buildings, palletizer room, and silos, and severely damaged the bulk train car loading area and parts of the sugar refining process areas.
OSHA levied over $8 million in penalties for safety violations at the refinery. Citations included 108 instances of willful violations related to combustible dust hazards, 10 citations for other willful violations, and 100 citations for serious violations and four citations for other-than-serious safety and health violations.
The CSB investigation identified the following incident causes:
- Conveying equipment was not designed or maintained to minimize the release of sugar and sugar dust into the work area.
- Inadequate housekeeping practices resulted in significant accumulations of combustible dust throughout the packing buildings.
- Airborne combustible sugar dust accumulated above the minimum explosive concentration.
- Imperial Sugar emergency evacuation plans were inadequate. Emergency notifications were announced only to personnel using 2-way radios and cell phones. Many workers had to rely on face-to-face verbal alerts in the event of an emergency. Also, the company did not conduct emergency evacuation drills.