South Dakota Grain Engulfment Brings $378,000 in Fines

At least 26 U.S. workers were killed in grain entrapments last year, and the numbers of entrapments are increasing, according to researchers at Purdue University.

OSHA has cited North Central Farmers Elevator in Ipswich, S.D., with six willful violations for exposing workers to being engulfed by grain. Proposed penalties total $378,000.

"It's fortunate that the North Central Farmers Elevator worker who was engulfed survived — because many don't. Grain entrapments are killing workers. Grain elevator owners and operators must implement well-known safety practices to prevent workers from being hurt or killed in a grain bin," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Dr. David Michaels.

At least 26 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 Purdue researchers started collecting data on entrapments in 1978.

OSHA's area office in Bismarck began an investigation at the North Central Farmers Elevator facility in October 2010 following an incident in which an employee was engulfed by corn in a grain bin. The alleged violations relate to grain and confined spaces, and address the failure of the employer to ensure that lockout/tagout procedures were followed to prevent accidental energy start-up, complete confined space and grain bin entry permits, perform required atmospheric testing, protect employees from engulfment hazards, provide an entrance observer, and prohibit entry into grain bins where bridging conditions exist.

Since 2009, OSHA has issued fines exceeding $100,000 per employer to grain operators across the country following preventable fatalities and injuries. In addition to enforcement actions, OSHA sent a notification letter in August 2010 and another in February 2011 to a total of more than 13,000 grain elevator operators warning them of proper safety precautions, including prohibiting entry in grain storage facilities while grain is being emptied out or flowing in or out of the bin, prohibiting employees from walking down the grain, and ensuring that employees enter the bin with the proper safety equipment.

"OSHA will not tolerate noncompliance with the Grain Handling Facilities standard," Michaels said in both letters. "We will continue to use our enforcement authority to the fullest extent possible."

At the time of the investigation, the workers' compensation carrier insuring North Central Farmers Elevator was Wausau Underwriters Insurance Co., headquartered in Boston. North Central Farmers Elevator operates 17 grain handling and agronomy facilities throughout North Dakota and South Dakota.

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