A 52-year-old maintenance employee at a Nebraska feed company was clearing crusted corn from the sides of a grain bin when a wall of corn collapsed and buried him in hundreds of pounds of debris. Rescued by emergency crews, he died of his injuries two days later.

Federal investigators found multiple violations of OSHA standards for grain handling at Prinz Grain & Feed's animal feed facility in West Point.

Company put in SVEP

Prinz was cited for three willful, 15 serious and two other-than-serious violations after its investigation of the May 18, 2016, fatal injury. The agency has placed Prinz in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which focuses on recalcitrant employers that endanger workers by committing willful, repeat or failure-to-abate violations.

How an engulfment can happen

"An "engulfment" often happens when "bridged" grain and vertical piles of stored grain collapse unexpectedly, as in this tragic case. The density, weight and unpredictable behavior of flowing grains make it nearly impossible for workers to rescue themselves without help. In more than 60 percent of grain engulfments, workers suffer fatal injuries," said Kim Stille, OSHA's regional administrator in Kansas City. "OSHA urges employers and workers in this hazardous industry to review and implement OSHA's grain-handling standards to prevent injuries and loss of lives."

Long list of violations

During its investigation, the agency found Prinz Grain & Feed failed to:

  • Issue confined space permits for entry into grain bins and pits.
  • Test atmospheric conditions in grain bins and pits before allowing workers to enter.
  • Provide training to employees on confined space entry.
  • Implement procedures to prevent sudden machine start-up or unintentional operation, a process known as lockout/tagout.
  • Provide rescue equipment suited for bin, silo or tanks being entered.
  • Train workers in grain handling hazards.
  • Issue "hot work" permits.
  • Examine powered industrial vehicles prior to use.
  • Provide protective equipment for the eyes and face.
  • Provide training to employees on the hazard communication standard.

OSHA has proposed penalties of $526,633. View current safety and health citations.

High fatality rate on OSHA-exempt farms

In 2015, the industry reported 22 grain-entrapment cases nationwide. Of those, 4 percent occurred in commercial grain facilities and 82 percent occurred on farms exempt from OSHA compliance. In 2010, 51 workers found themselves engulfed by grain stored in bins, and 26 died - the highest number on record - researchers at Indiana's Purdue University found. Purdue also reported that - of the more than 900 cases of grain engulfments reported since 1966 - 62 percent resulted in worker deaths.

"OSHA has done extensive outreach in the past several years working with leaders, farmers and those employed in the grain and feed industry to increase awareness of hazards in the grain industry and discuss ways to protect workers on the job and prevent these tragedies," said Jeff Funke, OSHA's area director in Omaha. "OSHA is always available to answers questions on how you can protect your workers on the job."