Longtime exposure to contaminated air can affect workers' health and well-being.

Longtime exposure to contaminated air can affect workers’ health and well-being.

Workers exposed to combustible dust and other hazards at Illinois cornstarch processing facility

PARIS, Ill. – Workers were exposed to combustible cornstarch dust, dust particles in excess of permissible exposure limits and other hazards at Septimus Inc.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited the company for 21 serious safety and health violations, carrying proposed penalties of $46,400.

A complaint prompted the inspection at the facility, which processes cornstarch for use in laundry detergent and other products.

“Combustible dust can burn rapidly and explode with little warning, putting workers at risk for severe injury and death,” said Thomas Bielema, OSHA’s area director in Peoria.

“OSHA’s inspection found that Septimus used potential ignition sources, like forklifts and electrical equipment, in areas where combustible dust was present.”

OSHA’s April 30, 2014, inspection found workers were exposed because processing and dust collection equipment lacked protective covers.

If this dust is suspended in the air in the right concentration, under certain conditions, it can become explosive.

The inspection found the company operated powered industrial vehicles in poor repair that were not rated for use in environments where combustible dust was present.

These vehicles, along with numerous electrical violations, provided potential ignition sources for the dust. The force from such an explosion can cause employee deaths, injuries and destruction of buildings.

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board identified 281 combustible dust incidents between 1980 and 2005 that led to the deaths of 119 workers, 718 injuries and numerous extensively damaged industrial facilities.

Workers were also exposed to airborne concentrations of dust in excess of the permissible exposure limit, which can cause respiratory illness and lung disease. The company failed to implement administrative and engineering controls to reduce exposure limits.

Additional serious violations involved amputation hazards and included lack of machine guarding, failure to implement specific lockout/tagout procedures to prevent machinery from operating during service and maintenance, and workers exposed to fall hazards of 7 feet or greater from unguarded working platforms.

The company also failed to train workers about hazardous chemicals in use at the facility and to mark exit routes clearly and ensure they were free of obstructions.

A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

Septimus has a contract with Tate & Lyle to extrude, dry blend and package cornstarch. The company is owned by The Faultless Starch/Bon Ami Co. of Kansas City, Missouri.

Septimus has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees.

OSHA’s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance.

Source: OSHA

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