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MSHA News Release No. 99-1014
Mine Safety and Health Administration - USDOL
Contact: Rodney Brown
Phone: 703-235-1452

Released Thursday, October 14, 1999

MSHA Resumes Hearing into Explosion at Kaiser Aluminum Plant

The U. S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration has resumed its public hearing into the July 5 explosion that injured 22 workers at the Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Co. plant in Gramercy, La. A series of legal motions initiated several weeks ago had prompted the hearing chairman to temporarily recess the proceedings which initially began on Sept. 8.

"The hearing will continue through next week and we look forward to bringing this investigation to a timely conclusion," said Tony Oppegard, hearing chairman and advisor to Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health J. Davitt McAteer. "It's in the best interest of all concerned that MSHA accurately determine what caused this accident. We can use the lessons learned here to prevent similar accidents in the future." The hearing into the explosion at Kaiser was recessed on Sept. 17 in order to enable legal motions to be heard by the U.S. district court. On Oct. 1, U. S. District Court Judge Carl Barbier upheld MSHA's jurisdiction to investigate the accident at the Kaiser plant and ordered Kaiser to produce certain documents. Kaiser's attorneys appealed the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit and requested an emergency stay. The request for a stay was denied last Saturday, thus clearing the way for the agency to continue its inquiry.

The district court judge also ruled that witnesses called by MSHA must respond to the subpoenas issued. The hearing on the Kaiser explosion, being conducted at the St. James Parish courthouse in Convent, resumed on Tuesday as the MSHA panel heard testimony from an outside digestion employee at the plant. His appearance was followed yesterday by four digestion control room workers, including one who was operating the control room panel at the time of the explosion.

MSHA investigators intend to question additional persons concerning events leading up to the explosion. Investigators hope to conclude the public hearing on Thursday, Oct. 21.