In February 2008, an Imperial Sugar Co. refinery exploded in Port Wentworth which resulted in 14 deaths. The director of human resources for Imperial has testified that the CEO instructed her shortly after the explosion to downplay the role she played in safety procedures.
The Savannah Morning News has the story.
Deborah Haban, Imperial’s director of human resources, testified in a federal investigation that shortly after the explosion she told the company’s CEO, John Sheptor, that OSHA was likely to interview her. Haban was concerned, because she had been given the task of coordinating safety programs before the explosion but lacked experience in the field of manufacturing safety. According to Haban, Sheptor told her to minimize the role she had played in safety programs to only an administrative role. Haban stated that Sheptor told her this meant “nothing more than an administrator to . . . administer the paperwork.”
When Haban was hired in 2003, she believed her job description entailed training and development. Haban testified that the company’s senior Vice President of human resources, Kay Hastings, soon informed her that her duties would expand to include safety. At that time, Imperial had shifted safety management from operations to human resources. Hastings also told Haban that she did not need to be a safety expert, but that she had to give the corporate safety director guidance and “hold him accountable to the paperwork process of creating action plans and following through.” Other sworn statements reveal that Haban participated in safety meetings with top officials and supervised the corporate safety director.
Hastings confirmed much of the testimony that Haban offered regarding her job duties. Hastings noted that Haban would deal with plant managers on safety issues and that the corporate safety director answered directly to Haban. Hastings also reaffirmed the fact that Haban had no experience or expertise in the safety field.
Since the explosions and fires, numerous lawsuits have been filed against Imperial by the victims and their families. In addition, OSHA has not decided whether to seek criminal charges against Sheptor or any other actors; however, it has sought an $8.8 million fine against Imperial for safety violations.
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