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December 21, 2023
Wisconsin mill agrees to pay $1.8 million OSHA fine

Cambria, Wisconsin, corn milling company Didion Milling Inc. agreed to pay $1.8 million in Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) penalties related to a May 31, 2017, dust explosion that killed five workers and injured more than a dozen others, OSHA announced December 14.

In a related criminal case, company Vice President of Operations Derrick Clark and former Food Safety Superintendent Shawn Mesner were convicted by a federal jury in Madison, Wisconsin, for falsifying documents and obstructing OSHA’s investigation. Other company officials, including shift supervisors and a former environmental manager, pleaded guilty in September in federal court in Madison to charges related to the incident. The convicted employees and those who pleaded guilty are awaiting criminal sentencing.

In September, the company also pleaded guilty to charges related to falsifying the mill’s cleaning and baghouse logs and agreed to pay restitution of more than $10 million to the explosion’s victims and a $1 million criminal fine. 

The $1.8 million settlement agreement before the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission resolves OSHA citations resulting from the explosions and fires.

As part of the settlement, Didion Milling agreed to make extensive safety improvements, including the following:

  • Develop a corporatewide safety and health management system within 6 months with input from management and workers, and create a safety committee.
  • Meet with OSHA at least yearly to discuss safety and health issues.
  • Work with third-party experts to ensure mechanical integrity of key pieces of equipment.
  • Conduct hazard analyses on grain dust and the need for flame-resistant personal protective garments.
  • Provide time, equipment, staff, and training related to combustible dust housekeeping, and perform mechanical integrity equipment inspections, tests, and preventive maintenance. 
  • Develop a management-of-change program and procedure overseen by a qualified person knowledgeable in the fire and deflagration hazards of agricultural or food dust.
  • Review changes to grain-processing equipment, including mills, dryers, dust collector filters, and bucket elevators for safety compliance.
  • Create an incident reporting and investigation system to identify incidents that include severe near misses, severe injuries, combustible dust fire, deflagration and explosion events, and material releases. 
  • Conduct emergency planning and response training with the local fire department annually, if practical. 
  • Train employees on the updated safety and health management system within 30 days of implementation. 
  • Conduct training in languages understood by employees. 

“Didion Milling’s agreement to make extensive safety improvements and work with OSHA and industry experts to protect the mill’s workers will protect the safety and lives of their current and future employees,” Bill Donovan, OSHA’s Region 5 administrator, said in an agency statement. “OSHA will hold Didion leadership accountable for changing the corporate culture to focus on safety and health by working with experts, and with management and workers. The five workers who lost their lives and those injured in this preventable tragedy must never be forgotten.”

On December 6, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) released a final report on the deadly explosions and fires at Didion Milling. CSB investigators determined that the ignition of combustible corn dust inside processing equipment led to dust explosions, fires, and collapsed buildings.

In its report, the CSB urged OSHA to develop a comprehensive federal standard for industries that handle combustible dust and increase follow-up inspections when combustible dust hazards have been identified at facilities.

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