Western Sugar fined $44,500 in death of factory worker

The Western Sugar Cooperative has been fined a final $7,000 in connection with the Jan. 4, 2014, death of Anfesa Marie Galaktionoff at the Western Sugar factory in Lovell.

[caption id="attachment_2826" align="alignright" width="300"]A column of steam flows from one of the pipes at the Western Sugar Factory in Lovell. The factory is running 24/7 to process the heavy yield of beets harvested this year. A column of steam flows from one of the pipes at the Western Sugar Factory in Lovell. The factory is running 24/7 to process the heavy yield of beets harvested this year.[/caption]

Combined with $37,500 in other penalties resulting from the workplace accident, the company is paying $44,500 in fines to the Wyoming Dept. of Workforce Services Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The fines announced this week result from the accident that claimed the life of Galaktionoff and closes out that case, Dept. of Workforce Services Standards and Compliance Administrator John Ysebaert said Tuesday. Still pending are a second round of fines announced in July resulting from follow-up inspections at Western Sugar plants in both Lovell and Torrington.

Wyoming OSHA announced proposed penalties of $71,000 against Western Sugar on May 15 after citing the company for 12 violations stemming from the Jan. 4 death of Galaktionoff. The citations followed an OSHA inspection in response to the accident that took place when Galaktionoff, a mechanic’s helper, fell through an opening in the floor above the beet wheel processing pit and was killed.

“This tragic loss of life could have been prevented,” Dept. of Workforce Services Director Joan Evans said at the time in a press release. “The employer failed to properly implement OSHA safety standards that require adequate guarding around floor openings.”

The first of 12 citations stated that debris and foam buildup made it difficult to see the unguarded opening of the beet wheel processing pit.

Following the announcement of the proposed penalty, Western Sugar announced the following week that it was seeking an informal conference with state health and safety regulators to review the citations listed by Wyoming OSHA.

Ysebaert said that request, part of due process to which employers are entitled, resulted in a series of informal conferences involving the company and Wyoming OSHA, the last of which was a few weeks ago.

The $7,000 fine announced this week was non-negotiable and was directly related to the fatality for leaving an open floor panel through which Galaktionoff fell, Ysebaert said. The company agreed to pay an additional $37,500 in penalties from the other citations that stemmed from the initial investigation into the accident.

Western Sugar had the right to apply for a federally mandated reduction in the $71,000 originally proposed fine based on the size and history of the company and was granted, in part, because of additional safety protocols the company agreed to, Ysebaert said, including a requirement that the company have all employees attend 30 hours of safety training on hazard awareness and undertake a self-inspection program, reporting to the state agency periodically.

“Federal OSHA regulations require us to reduce the fines for employers based on the size and history of the company,” he said. “Generally speaking, the smaller the company, the greater the reduction. $7,000 is the maximum allowable penalty we could assess (for the open floor panel).

“The inspector goes in and has a narrow focus, doesn’t look at the other areas of the plant. That’s why the (later) full site inspection occurred.”

The Wyoming Dept. of Workforce Services OSHA announced on July 18 that the agency had cited the Western Sugar Cooperative for 39 violations that were based on follow-up, full-site inspections at both the Lovell and Torrington sugar processing facilities conducted in February.

The two OSHA inspections resulted in proposed penalties totaling $194,000 on top of the specific penalties resulting from the workplace fatality in January. The two subsequent cases announced in July have yet to be fully resolved and are still open cases, Ysebaert said.

By David Peck