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Didion Milling faces more than $1.8 million in fines from May blast

Carol Spaeth-Bauer
Wisconsin State Farmer
A flag flies at half mast in front of the rubble left from a May 31 explosion at a corn mill plant at the Didion Milling complex in Cambria resulted in the death of five workers and injury to 12 others. OSHA found Didion at fault and proposed more than $1.8 million in fines.

CAMBRIA - The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) proposed more than $1.8 million in fines against Didion Milling Inc. on Nov. 17, as a result of a May 31 explosion that killed five workers and injured 12, including a 21-year-old employee who suffered a double leg amputation after being crushed by a railcar. 

OSHA determined the explosion likely resulted from Didion's failure to correct leakage, accumulation of highly combustible grain dust and to properly maintain equipment to control ignition sources, an OSHA news release stated. 

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


The destruction left after a May 31 explosion at the corn mill plant at the Didion Milling complex greeted drivers along Highway 146 by Cambria.

Didion's Cambria facility was cited with 14 willful violations, which is a violation in which the employer either knowingly failed to comply with a legal requirement or acted with indifference to employee safety. 

Eight of the willful violations were considered willful per-instance egregious.

Five serious citations - a violation that could cause an accident that would most likely result in death or serious physical harm, unless the employer did not know or could not have known of the violation - involved fire and explosion hazards. 

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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.

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.

The company has been placed in the OSHA's Severe Violator Enforcement Program. 

Didion 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.

Didion disagrees with penalties

In response to the citations issued by OSHA on Nov. 17, Didion officials released a statement saying the Didion team "continues to mourn the loss of our team members."

"Our thoughts remain first and foremost with the families of those affected, our employees and the community," the statement said.

Five workers died and 12 others were injured in a May 31 explosion at Didion Milling in Cambria. One injury resulted in a double leg amputation after the employee was crushed under a railcar. OSHA has announced more than $1.8 million in penalties against Didion.

Didion disagreed with OSHA's conclusion and with the "severity of the penalties levied against our family-owned business" and are working with legal counsel to "determine how to address the findings." 

"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," the statement said. 

Didion pledged to build a new state-of-the-art facility that will "utilize the latest technology and industry best practices, creating one of the most efficient, effective and safe operational systems available."

According to the statement, Didion will continue to work with industry experts and other agencies to determine the cause of the incident. 

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees.