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Cooperative Plus Inc. fined again after OSHA finds 25 safety violations at 2 other grain facilities in Wisconsin (8/18)

August 18, 2010

OSHA has proposed penalties of $374,500 against Cooperative Plus Inc., a farmer-owned cooperative, for federal workplace safety violations at its Whitewater and Genoa City, Wis., sites. These penalties follow $721,000 in penalties issued earlier this month after a worker was seriously injured from being engulfed by soybeans at the cooperative’s Burlington, Wis., facility in February.

“This continued non-compliance with long established safety standards for working in grain handling operations by Cooperative Plus Inc. shows a complete disregard for worker safety,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Dr. David Michaels. “All workers have the right to work in a safe environment, and the Labor Department will use all legal means necessary to ensure companies comply with established safety requirements.”

Based on its investigation of the Cooperative Plus facility in Whitewater, OSHA has fined the company $210,000 for three alleged willful violations. The company failed to test the atmosphere before entry and to have an employee entering wear a safety harness and lifeline. It also failed to post an employee to observe the entry, and to turn off and lock out power to the auger before workers entered the grain bins.

The Genoa City facility has received a proposed $70,000 penalty for one alleged willful violation, again for failing to shut down and lock out power to the grain bin augers before workers entered the bins.

In addition to the willful citations, the company has received $35,500 in proposed penalties for seven alleged serious violations at the Whitewater facility. The citations allege, among other violations, that the company lacked an emergency action plan and failed to train workers in the emergency use of respirators and on safe grain handling hazards. It also failed to test the oxygen levels in pits prior to entry or to maintain air-monitoring equipment for confined space entries. The company also has received a $59,000 proposed penalty for 11 alleged serious violations found at Genoa City. Violations address failures to implement confined space procedures while working in fertilizer tanks; to test the air quality before workers entered fertilizer tanks; to meet requirements for an emergency action plan; to train workers on grain handling hazards annually; and to equip employees with body harnesses and lifelines while working in grain bins.

OSHA recently sent letters to other grain storage companies warning them of their responsibility to comply with grain-handling and confined space entry standards.