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Published February 07, 2013, 10:09 AM

American Crystal worker burned at plant is critical but stable

The victim of an accident in the American Crystal Sugar Co. factory in East Grand Forks is in critical but stable condition in a Minneapolis hospital.

By: Stephen J. Lee, Forum News Service

The victim of an accident in the American Crystal Sugar Co. factory in East Grand Forks is in critical but stable condition in a Minneapolis hospital.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday inspectors from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration arrived at the factory to open an investigation into the Jan. 29 accident.

The victim, who is from the Chicago area, was seriously burned when a hot syrupy liquid inadvertently spewed out of a large tank on him, said a co-worker with knowledge of the incident who asked for anonymity.

Crystal spokesman Jeff Schweitzer said the Moorhead-based sugar manufacturer can’t comment because the victim works for Strom Engineering Corp. in Minnetonka, Minn.

Strom has provided contract workers for Crystal after the company locked out about 1,300 union workers Aug. 1, 2011 after they rejected a proposed new five-year contract. Since then, Crystal has hired about 1,000 temporary replacement workers locally, though it still retains some workers contracted through Strom, Schweitzer said Tuesday.

Strom’s vice president of operations, Jason Hans, did not return calls or emails Wednesday.

Inspectors

James Honerman, an OSHA spokesman based in the Twin Cities, confirmed in an email Wednesday that the agency has opened an inspection, but said little information was available yet, including how long the investigation will take.

Typically, an OSHA team will tour the work area and factory, take photos or videos, examine records and interview employees privately, among other things, he said.

The most recent OSHA inspection at the East Grand Forks factory began in October 2011, he said. By January 2012, OSHA determined there was a “serious” violation involving wiring methods and equipment, and a less serious violation, both settled for a fine of $5,250, down from an initial $8,700 fine. The inspection was closed August 2012.

Bakery Workers union officials previously have blamed less serious accidents since the lock-out, including some fires at some of Crystal’s five Red River Valley factories, on the inexperience of the replacement workers. It wasn’t clear yet what might have caused the Jan. 29 accident.

Missed at work

At a Caring Bridge site online set up by his children, the injured man’s condition was described Wednesday as the same as Monday, when they wrote it was “critical but stable.”

A spokeswoman for Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis confirmed that was the man’s condition.

His children wrote Monday that he was “under heavy sedation so he is not awake or able to speak.”

“On a positive note, they did put him on a lighter sedation to get him to start to breathe on his own,” one of his children wrote Wednesday, adding he still wasn’t breathing on his own.

Family members had to head home, but said they were confident he was in good hands.

His Caring Bridge guestbook had entries from near and far.

“Hi Grandpa... Please get well soon. I love you,” said one entry.

Co-workers wrote about missing his “charm and smiley face here at work,” and how his upbeat attitude helped everyone on the job.

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