Grain elevatorsA farmer-owned Wisconsin cooperative has agreed to pay $550,000 in penalties, step up grain bin training for employees and abate all safety issues at its four grain handling facilities, according to OSHA.

As part of the settlement agreement, Cooperative Plus will provide site-specific training for all employees exposed to potential hazards identified by OSHA's grain handling, permit-required confined space and lockout standards. The cooperative also will schedule confined space and bin entry rescue drills semiannually, and provide 10 hours of training to newly hired and current employees whose duties expose them to potential hazards addressed by these standards.

Additionally, the cooperative will develop and implement a program to manage the risk of grain handling that includes safe methods to inspect grain and dislodge clumps of grain to empty the bin; develop lockout/tagout procedures for augers, conveyors and other equipment prior to bin entry; and develop engineering controls to abate hazards posed by bridged and castled grain. The company will audit work to ensure that all employees are properly trained in program rules and OSHA safety standards.

Finally, the company agreed to retain at least one independent safety consultant and to comply with OSHA follow-up inspections over a two-year period.

Twenty-six workers were killed in grain entrapments nationwide last year, the highest number of any year since researchers started collecting data in 1978.

OSHA cited Cooperative Plus Inc. for a total of 14 willful, 23 serious and two other-than-serious safety violations in August 2010 for lacking proper equipment and procedures, thereby exposing workers to the risk of being engulfed and suffocated in grain storage bins.

Since 2009, 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 to grain elevator operators warning them not to allow workers to enter grain storage facilities without proper equipment.

Burlington-headquartered Cooperative Plus has locations throughout southeastern Wisconsin, including in Clinton, East Troy, Elkhorn, Genoa City, Union Grove and Whitewater. The company has a combined member-ownership of more than 10,000 and annual sales of more than $50 million.