After accidents seriously burned three workers at American Crystal Sugar, state inspectors found 30 alleged violations of safety regulations at the company’s East Grand Forks plant.
The accidents occurred earlier this year while Crystal Sugar was mired in an ugly lockout of its union workers, but the company and state regulators continue to wrangle over most of the safety citations, which could lead to more than $60,000 in fines.
Crystal Sugar is contesting many of the citations from OSHA inspections at its East Grand Forks plant, as is common for companies to do.
“Many of OSHA’s findings need to be discussed and/or worked through,” Crystal Sugar said in a statement. “We have a right to contest their findings and have discussions with them.”
The East Grand Forks plant is one of three in Minnesota run by Moorhead-based Crystal Sugar, the largest U.S. beet sugarmaker, which also has two mills in North Dakota. Minnesota’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration found many alleged safety problems in East Grand Forks in inspections after the accidents.
The company was cited for safety issues with stairs and machines; safety management of hazardous chemicals; and emergency response regarding hazardous waste. In relation specifically to a March 30 accident that injured two men, Crystal Sugar was cited for lack of proper guards over wall openings and holes, and was fined $7,000.
Crystal settled that citation, paying the $7,000, the most that can be assessed for a serious violation that doesn’t involve a fatality.
Two Crystal Sugar employees were hospitalized after falling into an uncovered sump pump pit on March 30 and suffering burns. The pit was filled with 6 to 8 feet of water and mud slurry estimated to be 176 to 185 degrees, according to OSHA records.
The first worker pulled himself from the pit immediately and went to a shower room, without notifying anyone. A second employee then also fell into the sump pump pit; he screamed and a third worker rushed to help, OSHA records say.
About two months earlier, another worker was burned at the East Grand Forks plant after coming “into contact with a hot liquid,” according to a report at the time by the Grand Forks Herald. That injured worker was employed by Strom Engineering, a Minnetonka firm that provides companies with replacements during labor stoppages.
After investigating the February accident, OSHA levied four serious safety citations against American Crystal Sugar — totaling $20,200 in fines — and one serious citation against Strom for $7,000. OSHA records indicate those citations are still being contested. Strom did not return a call for comment.
In early April, after the two accidents, OSHA conducted complete health and safety inspections of the East Grand Forks plant. The inspections weren’t triggered by the accidents, but the plant was due for a “routine program inspection,” said James Honerman, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry.
The accidents occurred during a lockout of American Crystal Sugar’s 1,300 union workers that began Aug. 1, 2011, after workers rejected a contract that would have raised pay 13 percent over 5 years — but would have cut health care benefits and weakened workers’ rights.
In mid-April, locked out workers voted for the fifth time on essentially the same contract proposal, approving it.