Matthew Boyer

The death of Matthew Boyer, 34, in October triggered the inspection of the Western Sugar Cooperative, but no citations directly related to the death were issued. However, federal workplace safety regulators have proposed $115,900 in fines after finding 11 serious or repeat health and safety violations.

HANNAH POTES, Billings Gazette

BILINGS - A Billings father is awaiting answers after his son died at the Western Sugar processing facility Sunday.

Jack Boyer said his son, Matthew Boyer, 34, spent most of his life in Billings. He graduated from Skyview High School, served his country in the United States Army Reserves and earned an associate degree in plant process technology. His degree qualified him for jobs in a wide range of manufacturing facilities, including Western Sugar’s Billings plant.

Jack Boyer said Matthew worked at the sugar beet processing plant for five years and at the time of his death was a foreman in the beet-drying area of the facility.

“There were a number of safety concerns my son had brought up while he was there. Most were in his area, the dryer. He never went into detail with me,” Jack Boyer said.

He said Matthew voiced his complaints to the plant’s management on multiple occasions, as recently as the week leading up to his death.

At about 3 a.m. Sunday, police officers came to Jack and Renee Boyer’s home to see if their son was staying there.

Jack Boyer said Matthew worked a rotating schedule between morning, afternoon and night shifts. The day before the police visit he had worked 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Jack Boyer doesn’t know why it took so long for Matthew to be reported missing.

After the police visit, Jack Boyer and one of Matthew’s three brothers drove down to the plant looking for any information they could find, but little was available at the time.

Several hours later, Western Sugar employees discovered Matthew Boyer’s body in the beet-drying area of the plant.

Billings police determined his death did not appear suspicious, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration took over the investigation Sunday afternoon.

In a Monday release, Western Sugar representatives said the company launched its own investigation into the incident and is cooperating fully with OSHA investigators.

“Our focus at this time is on supporting employees and the family of the deceased. Words cannot describe the sense of loss our company and community are feeling from this tragic incident,” the release said.

Art Hazen, OSHA area director, said Western Sugar has a history of safety violations but he doesn’t recall any in the beet drying area of the facility.

Hazen said the company was placed in a severe violator program after an inspection in 2013 resulted in 17 citations and $117,000 in fines.

“Since the big inspection of January of 2013, (Western Sugar has) done a top-down restructuring of their corporate management system,” Hazen said.

He said he believes the company has started implementing a safety culture in their facilities and a follow-up inspection in January of this year found the plant to be in compliance.

Hazen said the investigation into Matthew Boyer’s death has a six-month limit, but cases like this one usually take much less time.

Jack Boyer said until that time he can only wait and know Matthew had a family who loves him and will miss him terribly.

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