Western Sugar has been cited for 12 safety violations in connection with the Jan. 4 death at the cooperative’s Lovell factory. Workforce Services is proposing penalties that total $71,000, the agency announced in a Thursday afternoon news release.
A 28-year-old employee, Anfesa “Ky” Galaktionoff, died after falling through a floor opening in the facility’s beet wheel processing pit.
Wyoming Department of Workforce Services Director Joan Evans said in a statement that “this tragic loss of life could have been prevented,” saying that inspectors found Western Sugar did not have required guarding around floor openings.
Kent Wimmer, Western Sugar’s director of shareholder services at the cooperative’s headquarters in Denver, said it has requested a meeting with the Wyoming OSHA.
“We’ve been working in cooperation with OSHA and other regulatory authorities concerning the tragic event of last January in Lovell, Wyoming,” Wimmer said. “Our next step is to request an informal conference. We have requested that with OSHA.”
Western Sugar Cooperative had 15 days from receipt of the citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA, or contest the citations and proposed penalties. If a fine is imposed, the money would go to the Lovell school district.
“This is certainly one of our higher fines,” said John Ysebaert, administrator of standards and compliance for the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services. “It is not the highest but it is one of the higher.”
Ysebaert said no date has been set for the informal conference or the formal meeting. After those are held, Western Sugar can appeal to district court and the state Supreme Court.
Evans said for a reduction in the penalty to be considered, the onus is on Western Sugar to show why that should be done.
“It has to be some kind of new evidence that was for some reason overlooked during the initial investigation,” she said.
Penalties are reduced from time to time, Ysebaert said, calling it “not common and not uncommon.” He said “certain factors that come into play that increase or decrease” penalties are considered, including the firm’s past citation history, what health and safety programs have been put in place, as well as the size of the employer.
The fines are determined by a process that examines what citations are issued, Ysebaert said. The federal OSHA citation and fines process is followed.
Wimmer said Western Sugar is “doing everything” that OSHA recommended to improve safety.
“We continue to put a high value of all our employees,” Wimmer said.
Ysebaert and Evans said the plant has not been checked since the recommendations were made. Seeing that Western Sugar has made changes could impact the fines, they said.
“If they’re willing to go over and above the standard of health of their employees, we’ll consider a reduction at that point,” Ysebaert said.
Eleven of the citations are classified as serious violations, or violations that could cause a fatal or serious accident or illness. Those citations say Western Sugar did not have proper signs or railings or adequate guards on some mechanical equipment, among other problems in the facility.
The other citation is classified as a repeated serious violation. It is based on inspectors’ findings that a buildup of debris and foam made it difficult to see the unguarded opening of the processing pit, that there was sharp metal on the floor of the room and that there were signs of numerous spills in a chemical storage building that hadn’t been adequately cleaned up.
It’s a repeated violation because Western Sugar had previously been cited for similar violations at its Torrington location.
Galaktionoff’s mother, Colleen Savage of Wasilla, Alaska, said she knew of the proposed fines.
“I believe it’s way too low because these are a repeat,” Savage said.
She said they have not been offered a settlement from Western Sugar, nor has the family filed a lawsuit. The family has asked for a memorial gravesite at the factory, Savage said.
Wimmer said he had “no comment” about any settlement.
“I have not had any communication with the family,” he said.
Western Sugar Cooperative is owned by 1,200 sugar beet growers in Wyoming, Montana, Colorado and Nebraska.