Chester, IL-based Gilster-Mary Lee Corp. is facing a $231,000 fine for six safety violations, including three willful, after two maintenance employees conducting welding operations sustained serious burns to their upper bodies as the result of an explosion within a dust collector at the company’s Steeleville, IL, pasta manufacturing plant in October, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) officials said.

“Gilster-Mary Lee Corp. has a responsibility to protect workers conducting welding operations from known hazards in its manufacturing plants, including explosive dust,” said Karl Armstrong, director of OSHA’s Fairview Heights Area Office.

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The two maintenance workers were repairing a hole in the side of a metal trough containing a screw conveyor leaking granulated sugar within several feet of an operational dust collector. The dust collector exploded due to a spark from the welding operations.

The three willful violations include failing to eliminate dust deflagration and explosion hazards on indoor dust collectors and air material separators, contain dust during the bagging of powdered sugar, shut down ducts and conveyor systems during welding operations (which had been responsible for carrying a spark to the nearby dust collector), and ensure electrical equipment installed in areas exposed to combustible dust was approved and safe for those locations.

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Three serious violations include failing to inspect areas where welding was going to occur, prohibit welding in the presence of explosive atmospheres, and ensure the safe use of welding processes in the presence of combustible dust.

Due to the willful violations, OSHA placed Gilster-Mary Lee in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which mandates targeted follow-up inspections to ensure compliance with the law.

Prior to this inspection, the food manufacturer had been inspected by OSHA 30 times since 2002, resulting in citations for 46 violations, some involving combustible dust explosion, deflagration, and other fire hazards cited at the company’s Steeleville and Momence plants in 2008 and 2009, respectively.

Gilster-Mary Lee employs more than 2,000 workers at 12 facilities located in Chester, Steeleville, Momence and Centralia, IL; Joplin, Jasper, Perryville, and McBride, MO, and Wilson, AR.

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