Grain elevatorsDespite sending letters about safe grain handling procedures to 13,000 grain elevator operators in 2010 and 2011, OSHA seems to be having trouble getting the word out to grain operators.

A worker at DL Cattle Trading in Parks in Nebraska suffocated in March after being engulfed in grain that he was walking on in a bin that had a running auger. "Walking down the grain" was one of the prohibitions specifically mentioned in the OSHA notification letters. The company was cited for allowing workers to stand on flowing corn without isolating power to the auger, and for waiting two weeks to report the fatality.

More recently, Cenex Harvest States, Inc. of Columbus, Montana was cited following an OSHA inspection for failing to test for hazardous atmospheres in permit-required spaces (a willful violation) and to have unguarded pit and floor holes and unacceptable accumulations of potentially explosive dust (repeat violations of hazards it had been cited for in the past at its Courtenay, North Dakota and Wolf Point, Montana facilities).

Additionally, the company – which does business as Central Montana Co-Op – wracked up a number of serious violations, for having unguarded platforms, walkways with uncovered holes, improperly designed ladders, no housekeeping program for combustible dust, a failure to provide communication during permit-required confined space entries and atmospheric monitoring before entering grain storage structures and improper electrical wiring for high dust areas.

Proposed fines total $229,000.

"The hazards associated with grain handling operations are well recognized," said Christine A. Webb, OSHA's area director in Billings.

The notification letters sent by OSHA warned grain elevator operators of proper safety precautions that included prohibiting entry in grain storage facilities while grain is being emptied out or flowing in or out of the bin, prohibiting employees from "walking down the grain" and ensuring that employees enter the bin with the proper safety equipment.

"OSHA will not tolerate noncompliance with the Grain Handling Facilities standard," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Dr. David Michaels in both letters.