Didion Milling's corn mill in Cambria, Wis., pictured in 2012.
Didion Milling's corn mill in Cambria, Wis., pictured in 2012.
Photo courtesy of Didion Milling

CAMBRIA, WIS. — The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on Nov. 17 proposed $1,837,861 in fines against Didion Milling Inc. following a May 31 explosion that killed 5 workers and injured 12 others.

As part of its findings, OSHA determined that the explosion likely resulted from Didion’s failures to correct the leakage and accumulation of highly combustible grain dust throughout the facility and to properly maintain equipment to control ignition sources. OSHA cited Didion with 14 willful citations, including 8 willful per-instance egregious citations. Didion also was cited with 5 serious citations, most involving fire and explosion hazards. The company has been placed in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program.

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

OSHA said the egregious willful citations were issued for violating OSHA’s Grain Handling standard by failing to perform required maintenance on operating equipment and implementing a housekeeping program to control dust accumulations. Meanwhile, willful citations were issued for failure to shut down ignition sources, prevent static electricity discharge, provide adequate personal protective equipment to employees, correct malfunctioning dust collection systems, maintain equipment safety controls and have an emergency alarm system. Serious citations addressed hazards associated with fires and explosions, and the lack of employee training, OSHA said.

Didion Milling has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Responding to the OSHA citation document, Didion Milling issued a statement on Nov. 17 saying it disagrees with the level of the fines.

“Didion does not agree with the severity of the penalties levied against our family-owned business or the conclusions released by OSHA today,” said Aisha Bachlani, a company spokesperson. “We are working with our legal counsel to determine how to address the findings from this federal agency. Regardless of how we address OSHA’s decision, it is our intent to rebuild our corn milling facility in Cambria. As a family-owned company that has operated in the community for more than 45 years, we recognize how important our mill is for creating new jobs and adding economic value to the area, as well as providing an important source of revenue for area farmers and offering our customers high-quality products.”

Ms. Bachlani said Didion remains committed to its pledge to build a “state-of-the-art, best-in-class facility.”

“The new mill will utilize the latest technology and industry best practices, creating one of the most efficient, effective and safe operational systems available,” Ms. Bachlani said, adding that Didion is continuing to work with industry experts and other agencies to determine the cause of the incident.