The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has fined the South Dakota Wheat Growers Association of Aberdeen, S.D., more than $1.6 million following the Dec. 22, 2009, death of a worker at the company’s McLaughlin, S.D., grain handling operation.
The worker suffocated after being engulfed by grain in one of the facility’s bins. OSHA’s investigation found that five additional workers were also at risk of being engulfed when they were sent into the bin to dig the victim out.
OSHA proposed $1,610,000 in fines for 23 alleged willful violations of the grain handling and confined space standards, including:
- Failing to prohibit workers from walking on top of clumped grain;
- Failing to prohibit entry into the grain bins where the buildup of grain existed;
- failing to shut off and lock out equipment to prevent grain from moving through the bin while workers were inside;
- Failing to equip workers with grain engulfment protection;
- Failing to provide observers equipped to provide assistance;
- Failing to train workers;
- Failing to issue permits to control entry into grain bins;
- Failing to test the atmosphere;
- A lack of rescue equipment;
- And failing to implement an emergency action plan prior to entry.
The death in South Dakota follows a similar May 2009 death of a 17-year old employee of Tempel Grain LLP in Haswell, Colo. That worker also suffocated after being engulfed by grain. OSHA issued $1,592,500 in fines for 22 alleged willful and 13 alleged serious violations in that case.
OSHA has implemented a regional emphasis inspection program in the grain handling industry to address the serious hazards associated with grain bins and confined spaces, and operators and industry associations have been sent letters announcing the program. OSHA’s area offices covering Colorado, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota are also providing assistance to help grain storage facilities comply with safety standards.
The company has 15 business days from receipt of all OSHA citations to pay the penalties, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
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