Western Sugar seeks conference with regulators regarding citations

Western Sugar Co-op factory in Lovell, WY.
Western Sugar Co-op factory in Lovell, WY.

The Western Sugar Cooperative is seeking an informal conference with state health and safety regulators to review the citations for 12 violations listed by the Wyoming Dept. of Workforce Services Occupational Safety and Health Administration stemming from the Jan. 4 death of Lovell factory worker Anfesa Marie Galaktionoff.

Wyoming OSHA recently proposed penalties totaling $71,000 based on the 12 citations detailed in announcement on May 15.

Western Sugar Director of Shareholder Relations Kent Wimmer said Tuesday that the company is working in cooperation with OSHA and the regulatory authorities, pointing out that the next step in the process is the informal conference to review the citations, not necessarily the fines, as reported by various media outlets.

“We have made that request,” Wimmer said. “We do place the highest value on safety for our employees and providing a safe work environment,” Wimmer added.

Dept. of Workforce Services Standards and Compliance Administrator John Ysebaert said the informal conference has been set for Tuesday, June 17, in Cheyenne. He said the conference is similar to a pre-trial conference where both parties present and exchange information and evidence that would be presented at a formal hearing.

The employer – Western Sugar – will have a chance to hear OSHA’s documentation and seek clarification on the citations, and OSHA will explain the nature of the citations and the federal requirements that led to the citations and present clarifications, Ysebaert said, noting that Wyoming penalties mirror federal penalties and that violations that lead directly to a death are given the maximum penalties allowed. State penalties cannot be less than federal penalties, he added.

“The intent (of the hearing) is not to talk about the penalties,” Ysebaert said. “It really is an educational opportunity for the employer. In the case of fatalities, they very rarely receive any reductions.”

Following the informal conference, Ysebaert said the company will have an opportunity to file a formal appeal of the citations and penalties if it chooses.

“We don’t know what Western Sugar intends. The intent of the informal conference is to present enough information and evidence so that we don’t have to go through a formal appeal process,” he said.

If the company proceeds with a formal appeal, it would go through the Wyoming Office of Administrative Hearings, which would conduct a hearing and issue a ruling. The ruling would then go to the OSHA Commission to be confirmed or overturned, but Ysebaert noted, “I cannot think of a case where an OAH decision was overturned.”

Beyond the OSHA Commission would be an appeal to district court and, eventually, the Wyoming Supreme Court, Ysebaert said, but again he stressed that a formal appeal is not automatic and is up to the employer to request.

 The citations and penalties announced May 15 were issued in the wake of an inspection that was conducted following the death of Galaktionoff at the Lovell factory. The mechanic’s helper fell through a floor opening in the beet wheel processing pit, according to the DWS OSHA report.

The inspection found a condition that merits one repeat serious violation, which exists when the workplace hazard has been cited previously for the same or a substantially similar condition and could cause an accident or illness that would most likely result in death or serious physical harm. This violation carries a $14,000 fine.

The citation, noted as Citation 1-1, states that debris and foam buildup made it difficult to see the unguarded opening of the beet wheel processing pit, and sharp metal also littered the floor of the room. Additionally, the chemical storage building showed signs of numerous inadequate spill cleanups.

The citation is deemed a repeat violation because the Western Sugar Cooperative was previously cited for similar violations at its Torrington plant, according to the DWS announcement.

The inspection also found conditions that OSHA says merit 11 serious violations, which could cause an accident or illness that would most likely result in death or serious physical harm. The 11 violations in the serious category total $57,000 in fines.

By David Peck