“This tragic death could have been prevented had the grain bin owner and operators followed occupational safety standards and learned from the tragedies that have occurred at other grain bins,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Dr. David Michaels. “Grain elevator owners and operators must implement well-known safety practices to prevent workers from being hurt or killed in a grain bin.”
At least 25 U.S. workers were killed in grain entrapments last year, and the numbers of entrapments are increasing, according to researchers at Purdue University. There were more grain entrapments in 2010 than in any year since the university started collecting data on entrapments in 1978.
Following inspections at its Morral, West Jefferson and Harpster grain bin facilities, the company is being cited for 46 safety and health violations with penalties totaling $465,500.
Gavilon Grain’s Morral, Ohio facility was issued a total of eight safety citations with proposed penalties of $175,000, including two willful citations for failing to lock out the discharge and sweep auger, and to provide an appropriate grain bin entry permit to perform work. A willful violation is one committed with intentional knowing or voluntary disregard for the law’s requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.
Five serious citations were issued for failing to train employees in safety precautions and bin entry procedures, not having an observer during bin entry, failing to have rescue equipment, failing to test the atmosphere in the space to be entered and failing to have deflagration controls for combustible dust. A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.
One other-than-serious citation was issued for not having combustible dust warning signs in place. An other-than-serious violation is one that has a direct relationship to job safety and health, but probably would not cause death or serious physical harm.
As a result of violations discovered at the Morral facility, OSHA initiated inspections at the company’s West Jefferson and Harpster facilities. The West Jefferson, Ohio facility was fined $171,000 and cited with a total of 22 health and safety violations, including two repeat safety violations for allowing employees to walk working surfaces without proper guarding in place and failing to safeguard employees from electrical hazards such as broken electrical conduits. A repeat violation exists when an employer previously has been cited for the same or a similar violation of a standard, regulation, rule or order at any other facility in federal enforcement states within the last 5 years.
Thirteen serious safety citations were issued for allowing employees to walk working surfaces without ladderway gates and mid-rails, and exposing workers to electrical and machine guarding hazards. Four serious health citations were issued for a lack of safe grain handling and electrical procedures. Three other-than-serious health citations were issued for lack of signage and hazard communication procedures.
The company’s facility in Harpster, Ohio was fined $119,500 and cited with a total of 16 safety violations, including one willful violation for failing to evaluate work spaces to determine if any required confined space entry permits. Fourteen serious citations were issued for failing to implement a confined space program, not having a non-entry retrieval system, a lack of personal protective equipment for employees, a lack of electrical training, a lack of combustible dust controls and failing to train employees in combustible grain dust hazards. One other-than-serious citation was issued for a lack of combustible dust warning signs.
Gavilon Grain LLC, which operates as Peavey Co. in Ohio, is a subsidiary of Omaha, Neb.-based Gavilon Group LLC. Prior to these inspections, Gavilon Group facilities in Nebraska and Delaware were issued citations in 2010 and 2009, respectively, including citations for the grain handling standard.
Since 2009, OSHA has fined grain operators in Illinois, Colorado, South Dakota and Wisconsin following similar preventable fatalities and injuries. In addition to enforcement actions and training, OSHA sent a notification letter in August 2010 to grain elevator operators warning them not to allow workers to enter grain storage facilities without proper equipment. “OSHA will not tolerate noncompliance with the Grain Handling Facilities standard,” said Michaels in the letter. “We will continue to use our enforcement authority to the fullest extent possible.” For a copy of the letter, visit http://www.osha.gov/asst-sec/Grain_letter.html.
OSHA’s Region V, which includes Illinois, Ohio and Wisconsin, initiated a Grain Safety Local Emphasis Program in August 2010, and has conducted 61 inspections and issued 163 citations to grain operators/facilities. The violations cover hazards associated with grain engulfment, machine guarding, lockout/tagout of dangerous equipment to prevent accidental energization start-up, electricity, falls, employee training and combustible dust hazards.
These investigations also fall under the requirements of OSHA’s Severe Violators Enforcement Program. Initiated in the spring of 2010, the program is intended to focus on recalcitrant employers that endanger workers by committing willful, repeat or failure-to-abate violations in one or more of the following circumstances: a fatality or catastrophe; industry operations or processes that expose workers to severe occupational hazards; exposure to hazards related to the potential releases of highly hazardous chemicals; and all per-instance citation (egregious) enforcement actions. For more information about the Severe Violators Enforcement Program, visit http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=DIRECTIVES&p_id=4503.
The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.