Grain Engulfment Kills Worker, Facility Fined $188,000

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

OSHA has cited Taft Grain & Elevator Co. with four willful and 16 serious violations following the death of an employee who became engulfed in grain at the company's work site in Taft, Texas. Proposed penalties total $188,000.

"Tragically, a worker was killed when he became trapped in a grain storage facility and engulfed by grain," said Michael Rivera, OSHA's area director in Corpus Christi. "Grain elevator owners and operators must implement and follow well-known safety practices to prevent workers from being hurt or killed in grain bins."

At least 26 U.S. workers were killed in grain entrapments last year, and the number of entrapments is 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 Corpus Christi Area Office initiated its inspection Nov. 9, 2010, following a report of an employee who died from being engulfed by grain at the company's facility. An additional inspection was performed on Nov. 17 under the OSHA Regional Emphasis Program for Grain Handling Facilities, which covered all processes at the company's facility.

The willful violations include failing to provide a body harness and lifeline to employees working on stored grain, lock and tag out equipment during grain storage building entry to prevent accidental energy start-up, and have an attendant present with rescue equipment during grain storage bin entry.

Serious violations include failing to ensure that employees were trained in hazards associated with grain handling, protect employees from falls by providing harnesses, and clean combustible dust from workroom floors and other surfaces.

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," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Dr. David Michaels in both letters. "We will continue to use our enforcement authority to the fullest extent possible."

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