Fine proposed in fatal blast

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A Wisconsin milling company should pay $1.8 million in fines for failing to prevent a fatal plant explosion earlier this year, federal labor officials announced Friday.

The Didion Milling Co. corn processing plant in Cambria exploded on May 31, killing five workers and injuring 12 more, including an employee who had to have both legs amputated after the blast sent a railroad car crashing down on him.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a news release Friday saying that an accumulation of highly combustible grain dust probably caused the explosion.

The agency said the explosion was preventable and issued 19 citations against the company for violations including failing to maintain equipment, failing to implement a program to control dust accumulations, failing to shut down ignition sources, failing to prevent static electricity discharges, failing to provide adequate protective equipment to workers and failing to correct malfunctioning dust collection systems. OSHA officials proposed fining the company $1.84 million.

“Didion Milling could have prevented this tragedy if it had addressed hazards that are well-known in this industry,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Ken Nishiyama Atha. “Instead, their disregard for the law led to an explosion that claimed the lives of workers, and heartbreak for their families and the community.”

The company has 15 business days from receiving the citations to comply with the fine, request a conference with OSHA’s area director or contest the findings before the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. The commission is an independent federal agency that decides disputes over OSHA citations and penalties.

Didion officials said in a statement Friday afternoon that they disagree with the severity of the penalties and OSHA’s conclusions. They said they’re working with their attorneys to decide how to proceed.

They added they plan to build a new plant with state-of-the-art safety equipment.