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OSHA threatens Simplot with fine

The federal work safety agency suggested today it may slap a $59,000 fine on the J.R. Simplot Co. for what it says are a baker's dozen of health and safety violations at its Grand Forks plant on Gateway Drive.

The federal work safety agency suggested today it may slap a $59,000 fine on the J.R. Simplot Co. for what it says are a baker's dozen of health and safety violations at its Grand Forks plant on Gateway Drive.

But the fine hasn't been implemented yet and the company is working to resolve the issues, which are relatively common in workplaces, said the regional director of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. News of OSHA's action, in fact, was leaked prematurely by the agency.

Simplot, based in Boise, Idaho, says it's one of the nation's largest privately held firms, with $4.5 billion in revenues and selling agricultural products in every state and many other countries.

Its Grand Forks plant is one of its half-dozen potato processing plants, making frozen French fries -- a company invention in the 1950s -- out of the long Russet spuds grown on irrigated acres in Grand Forks County. It also makes a variety of other frozen and processed potato products. Simplot is the main supplier of French fries to McDonald's Restaurants. Simplot also is a major fertilizer producer and cattle feeder and rancher, and produces seed and a host of ag services.

According to a news release from the Bismarck office of the U.S. Department of Labor's OSHA, it proposes $59,000 in penalties for "one repeat and 12 serious workplace health and safety citations" at the Grand Forks Simplot plant.


OSHA's Bismarck office began investigating the plant in April because it showed up in the agency's system of targeted inspections.

"A repeat citation was issued for the company's failure to perform inspections and tests on process safety management equipment," said OSHA's area director, Tom Deutscher, in Bismarck, according to the news release. "This repeat citation stems from a similar hazard cited during a previous OSHA inspection at the company's facility in Pocatello, Idaho."

That's where Simplot has one of its fertilizer plants.

The serious citations involve Simplot's failure to use "good engineering practices, provide fall protection, perform crane inspections, provide proper machine guarding and eliminate electrical hazards," according to the news release.

The citations are called "serious" when the violations could result "in death or serious physical harm from a hazard an employer knew or should have known exists," according to OSHA.

Simplot has 15 business days, or about three weeks, after receiving the citations to comply with OSHA's directives, or ask for a meeting with OSHA or contest the findings.

Sue Richardson, public relations manager for Simplot at its Boise headquarters, said today she had talked to company officials there as well as plant officials in Grand Forks and learned Simplot has not yet received the report from OSHA, so she can't comment much on it.

After hearing a reporter read most of the OSHA news release, Richardson said:


"We are obviously concerned. The health and safety of our employees are always our highest priority. We obviously take this very seriously and we will address it immediately, if there are areas that need to be addressed."

Basic violations

Deutscher said OSHA, as a rule, always notifies a company first before issuing a news release about any citations. But in this case, the news release inadvertently went to the news media before Simplot was informed of the citations, and he apologized to Simplot officials, Deutscher said. "In my 32 years here, that's the first time that's happened," he said of the premature release.

In an interview today, Deutscher also made clear that OSHA is not alleging any malfeasance by what he said "is a good company."

"These were very routine, basic violations that we see out there in the work place and we are really working well with the company and they have been very cooperative."

Simplot is one of the region's largest private employers, and had about 400 employees three years ago, according to a Herald report.

The Grand Forks County Commission is considering a big renovation project Simplot is seeking, involving about $95 million in federally backed bonds to improve buildings, equipment and water and potato waste treatment at its plant.

A public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for the commission's next meeting on Tuesday.


Reach Lee at (701) 780-1237; (800) 477-6572, ext. 237; or send e-mail to slee@gfherald.com .

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