Worker Suffocates in Grain Bin; Company Faces Willful Charges

OSHA has proposed $158,250 in fines against Access Ag Inc., a Mazon-based grain handling company, for three alleged willful and four alleged serious violations of federal workplace safety standards found during a September 2007 investigation after an employee was asphyxiated in a grain bin. The willful violations include failing to lockout equipment prior to bin entry to prevent accidental energy start-up; allowing employees to walk on the grain to make it flow; and failing to require employees to wear body harnesses with lifelines during bin entry.

The serious violations include deficient ladders; failing to provide rescue equipment for employees entering a grain bin; training deficiencies; failing to implement an emergency action plan; and failing to maintain communication between observers and persons entering the grain bin. OSHA defines a willful violation as one committed with plain indifference to or intentional disregard for employee safety and health. A serious violation is one in which there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazardous condition about which the employer knew or should have known.

"Grain handling standards were put into regulations approximately two decades ago, and OSHA continues to see a tragic disregard for safe work practices, resulting in employees being placed in harm's way," said Kathy O'Connell, the agency's area director in North Aurora, Ill. "Failure to adhere to those standards will not be tolerated."

Access Ag operates as a corporation in four Illinois locations: Mazon, Ransom, Dwight, and Odell. The grain co-op includes some 2,000 landowners and farmers.

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