Against the Grain

OSHA's announcement Wednesday of a $721,000 fine against Cooperative Plus Inc., a farmer-owned cooperative in Burlington, Wis., that was founded in 1937, can't have been welcome news. CPI's latest e-newsletter, dated April 2010, includes a snapshot of 2009 highlights that indicates CPI posted a $61,852 net loss after taxes on $78.2 million in total sales, a figure that was $30 million below the total sales number for 2008. President/CEO Brad Gjermo cited lower commodity prices in his message to members, where he reminded them that "CPI always makes safety a priority.

"Remember," he continued, "owning storage and equipment leaves you susceptible to the same dangers our employees face on the job. As a cooperative, we follow OSHA regulations. You too, should operate with the same standards for your safety."

Photos and a description of a recent grain bin safety training exercise conducted by CPI's Grain Division are prominently displayed on CPI's website. I called Gjermo seeking his comment about the fine, which stems from a Feb. 9, 2010, incident in a storage bin when CPI employee Phil Adsit was "trapped in soybeans up to his chest in 25 degree weather and ultimately rescued after a four hour ordeal," according to OSHA. A short time later, Bill Garvens, CPI's Vice President - Credit and Safety, e-mailed this release to me: "We have not yet had time to consider the allegations of OSHA's citations in any detail. Until we do, we can make no further comment on them. But CPI has been and is a safety-conscious company, and we care deeply about our employees' safety and health, on and off the job. If we need to make changes to protect their safety and health in the workplace further, we will do so. But, to the extent OSHA's citations are factually or legally without merit, we will fight them vigorously."

"He was engulfed only up to his armpits. He literally came within inches of dying," OSHA Assistant Secretary David Michaels said Wednesday about Adsit, who he said was sent into a bin filled with 3 million pounds of soybeans, armed with a length of PVC pipe to break up a frozen clump of the soybeans. When he entered the bin, the auger at the bottom of the bin was running, Michael said. OSHA issued a $1.6 million fine in May against the South Dakota Wheat Growers Assocation in connection with an engulfment fatality, and Michaels announced Wednesday that OSHA is sending a letter to about 3,300 U.S. grain operators to remind them of their responsibilities to equip and train workers properly.

"Although it has been known since the time of the Romans that it is dangerous to enter grain silos without taking safety precautions, every year workers die in these grain storage facilities," he said. "I am appalled by the outrageous, reckless behavior of some grain operators." Some fail to train or protect their workers at all, he said. "OSHA is putting this industry on notice. OSHA will use the full extent of the law to ensure that any employer who violates these standards is held accountable for its lack of concern for worker safety. We are stepping up our inspections because we want to get to these employers before workers die."

OSHA issued 10 willful violations against CPI: two per-instance willful violations for allegedly failing to provide body harnesses and lifelines to workers entering grain storage bins and to provide an observer while other workers entered the grain bins; failing to ensure safe procedures were implemented for bin entries; failing to prohibit workers from walking on grain inside a bin; and failing to provide rescue equipment for workers entering bins or to implement an emergency action plan.

Posted by Jerry Laws on Aug 04, 2010