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Worker dies in NY grain engulfment

November 16, 2011
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Portion of an OSHA grain handling warning
grain handling warning

A worker died at an animal feed processing facility in NY because his employer sent untrained and improperly equipped employees into a dangerous work situation, according to OSHA, which leveled 21 violations against Harbor Point Mineral Products following the fatality.

The employee died May 11 after being engulfed by cotton seed stored in a silo.

An inspection by OSHA's Syracuse Area Office found that employees had not been trained on the hazards associated with entering a silo and were not equipped with an approved lifeline. In addition, the atmosphere inside the silo had not been sampled for oxygen deficiency and the energy source of the silo's augur had not been locked out prior to entry. Due to the employer's knowledge of and failure to address these hazards, OSHA issued citations for four willful violations.

OSHA also cited the company for 17 serious violations for a variety of additional safety and health hazards. These included allowing an employee to "walk down" the grain; the lack of rescue equipment and training; employees overexposed to grain dust and the lack of controls to reduce the exposure level; respiratory and hazard communication deficiencies; and fall hazards from unguarded ladder, floor and wall openings.

"Storage silo entry is very dangerous. It only takes a few seconds for a worker to sink into and be buried by stored feed or grain," said Robert Kulick, OSHA's regional director in New York.

OSHA has placed Harbor Point in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which mandates targeted follow-up inspections to ensure compliance with the law. Initiated in June 2010, the program focuses on recalcitrant employers that endanger workers by committing willful, repeat or failure-to-abate violations.

Information on grain handling hazards and safeguards is available online at http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/grainhandling/index.html. A concise fact sheet illustrating grain bin hazards and safeguards is available at http://www.osha.gov/Publications/grainstorageFACTSHEET.pdf*. An illustrated grain handling hazard card for workers is available at http://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA_3329.pdf*.

OSHA has fined grain operators in Wisconsin, Illinois, Colorado, South Dakota, Ohio and Nebraska following preventable fatalities and injuries. In addition to enforcement actions and training, OSHA Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels sent a notification letter in August 2010 and another in February 2011 to grain elevator operators warning them of proper safety precautions.

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