Didion Milling Executives Sentenced by Wisconsin Judge for Workplace Safety and Environmental Violations

Didion Milling Executives Sentenced by Wisconsin Judge for Workplace Safety and Environmental Violations

In a landmark legal decision, U.S. District Court Judge James D. Peterson for the Western District of Wisconsin has sentenced several officials from Didion Milling Inc., including a corporate vice president and former managers, for their involvement in a fatal explosion at a mill operated by the company.

Attorney General Garland Expresses Concerns: Workplace Safety Violations Result in Tragedy

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland emphasized the gravity of the situation, stating, “These defendants put Didion workers in grave danger, and five people tragically lost their lives, devastating their families and their community.”

Garland warned companies of all sizes about the consequences of non-compliance with workplace safety and environmental laws, emphasizing the potential cost in lives and imprisonment for corporate managers.

Background of the Tragedy: May 2017 Mill Explosion

The fatal incident occurred on May 31, 2017, around 10:30 p.m., when a fire erupted in milling equipment at Didion’s corn mill in Cambria, Wisconsin.

Subsequent combustible dust explosions resulted in the deaths of five workers, serious injuries to others, and significant damage to mill buildings.

Investigations revealed criminal violations related to workplace safety, environmental practices, and obstruction of justice by both the company and senior officials.

Grain Milling Regulations: Importance of Workplace Safety

Grain milling, known for generating combustible grain dust, requires effective management for workplace safety, environmental compliance, and food safety.

Mill operators must adhere to rules minimizing hazards, including cleaning programs to remove dust accumulations and capturing dust to prevent environmental pollution.

Didion’s inadequate safety measures and falsification of documents to conceal improper handling of grain dust were uncovered during investigations.

Legal Actions and Sentencing: Justice Department’s Actions and Consequences

In October 2023, the Justice Department secured guilty pleas from Didion, company officials, and convictions against two more officials.

This week, three defendants received prison sentences, and three were sentenced to probation, with one more awaiting sentencing in March.

Didion, the company, was sentenced last month to pay restitution and fines, along with five years of probation and special conditions overseeing its operations.

Government Officials and Agencies Weigh In: Commitment to Enforcement

Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim and Assistant Administrator David M. Uhlmann of the Environmental Protection Agency stressed the importance of enforcing regulations to prevent workplace disasters and punish deceptive conduct.

Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su emphasized that workplace safety cover-ups would not be tolerated.

Individual Sentences: Didion Vice President and Former Managers Face Consequences

Didion Vice President of Operations, Derrick Clark, received a two-year prison sentence and fines for conspiring to falsify documents related to dust cleaning practices and obstructing investigations.

Former Environmental Manager Joseph Winch and Former Food Safety Superintendent Shawn Mesner also faced prison time for their roles in conspiracies to falsify environmental and safety records.

Shift Superintendents Sentenced: Acknowledging Guilt and Responsibility

Three former Didion shift superintendents, who pleaded guilty to felonies, received probation sentences.

Anthony Hess, Joel Niemeyer, and Michael Bright acknowledged their guilt and accepted responsibility for their actions, emphasizing the seriousness of their roles in falsifying Didion’s sanitation log.

Legal Procedures and Support: Information for Filing Complaints and Reporting Violations

The article provides information on how to file safety and health complaints about unsafe work conditions and retaliation complaints for workplace safety-related protected activity.

It also encourages reporting suspected environmental violations.

The EPA Criminal Investigation Division handled the case, with trial attorneys from the Justice Department prosecuting and logistical support from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Wisconsin.

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