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Grain bin suffocations bring penalties from both OSHA and DOL (1/25)

January 25, 2011
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One victim was 14 years of age

The U.S. Department of Labor has fined Haasbach LLC in Mount Carroll and Hillsdale Elevator Co. in Geneseo and Annawan, Ill., following the deaths of three workers, including two teenagers. The workers were killed when they suffocated after being engulfed by grain.

"The tragic deaths of three people could have been prevented had the grain bin owners and operators followed the occupational safety standards and child labor laws," said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. "It is unconscionable to allow a minor to work in any high-hazard area. Haasbach's and Hillsdale's disregard for the law and commonsense safety practices has led to devastation for three families."

At least 25 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 they started collecting data on entrapments in 1978.

"Grain entrapments kill workers. All employers, especially those in high-hazard industries, must prevent workers from being hurt or killed as a result of recognized hazards," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. "There is absolutely no excuse for any worker to be killed in this type of incident."

Those killed were "walking down the corn"

The fines to both companies total $1,352,125. Haasbach was issued 24 citations from the department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration with a penalty of $555,000 following an investigation into the deaths of the two young workers, Wyatt Whitebread and Alex Pacas (ages 14 and 19 years old, respectively), at the company's grain elevator in Mount Carroll. A 20-year-old man also was seriously injured in the July 2010 incident when all three became entrapped in corn more than 30 feet deep. At the time of the incident, the workers were "walking down the corn" to make it flow while machinery used for evacuating the grain was running.

The department's Wage and Hour Division's separate investigation found that Haasbach violated the Fair Labor Standards Act's Child Labor standards for employing anyone less than 18 years of age to perform hazardous jobs prohibited by the act. As a result, the division issued Haasbach $68,125 in civil money penalties.

Hillsdale Elevator was issued 22 citations by OSHA following the death of a 49-year-old worker, Raymond Nowland, who was engulfed by corn in a storage bin at the company's facility in Geneseo. OSHA discovered additional violations during a later inspection of the company's Annawan facility. Consequently, OSHA issued the company $729,000 in fines.

Since 2009, OSHA has fined grain operators in Illinois, Colorado, South Dakota and Wisconsin following similar preventable fatalities and injuries. In addition to enforcement actions, OSHA sent a notification letter to grain elevator operators warning them not to allow workers to enter grain storage facilities without proper equipment, precautions and training. "OSHA will not tolerate non-compliance with the Grain Handling Facilities standard," said Michaels in the letter. "We will continue to use our enforcement authority to the fullest extent possible."

OSHA's Region V, which includes Illinois, Ohio and Wisconsin, initiated a Grain Safety Local Emphasis Program in August 2010, and has since conducted 61 inspections and issued 163 violations to grain operators/facilities. The violations cover hazards associated with grain engulfment, machine guarding, lockout/tagout of dangerous equipment to prevent accidental energization start-up, electricity, falls, employee training and combustible dust hazards.

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