"The Department of Labor will vigorously enforce safety standards for workers in grain silos," said John Henshaw, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health and head of OSHA. "This was a tragic accident that should have been avoided."
The accident occurred on the afternoon of May 1 while three workers were emptying a corn silo. Two workers remained outside the silo, while the third worker entered through a hatchway. He descended a ladder attached to the inside of the 42-foot-high silo and began dislodging corn that had become caked to its side. The worker was also told to keep the corn flowing through the silo down to a processing area, a job that required leaving the ladder.
About 30 minutes after entering the silo, the worker, who wore no protective equipment, radioed to his co-workers that he was sinking. The machinery was stopped but the worker was already buried chest-deep. Co-workers attempted to pull him out but failed before calling emergency rescue personnel, who were also unable to free the worker. Four hours after being entrapped, he died of asphyxiation due to the pressure of the corn on his chest.
"This employer allowed workers to enter operating silos without body harnesses or other protective equipment," said Les Grove, OSHA's Tampa area director. "In addition, nothing was done to stop workers from 'walking the corn,' a recognized industry hazard that can result in engulfment. This time it cost a worker his life."
During the investigation, OSHA inspectors warned the company about the danger of dust accumulation, as much as 18 inches in some areas. Yet, tests taken a few weeks after the accident revealed that no action had been taken to remove the dust. On May 30, the agency posted a Notice of Imminent Danger, which requires the employer to stop work until the hazard is corrected, due to the potential for a grain dust explosion.
Hillandale Farms of Florida received two willful citations with proposed penalties totaling $125,000 for allowing employees without lifelines or body harnesses to enter grain silos and for failing to remove grain dust as it accumulated in the mill.
The agency fined the company $36,000 for seven additional serious citations for failing to have in place an emergency action plan, including emergency shutdown procedures and maintenance of emergency rescue equipment; failing to issue entry permits for confined spaces; not conducting employee safety training, and failure to develop and implement a written housekeeping program to eliminate grain dust accumulations.
Hillandale Farms has 15 working days to contest the OSHA citations and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, request an informal review with the OSHA area director, or pay the proposed fine.