Grain elevatorsTwo Texas grain handling facilities were cited this week by OSHA for exposing employees to dangerous conditions. At one of them, a worker was engulfed while emptying grain from a storage bin. "The employee was rescued due to the exceptional efforts of the Corpus Christi Fire Department," according to a statement by the agency.

The Corpus Christi Grain Co., which employes about 25 workers, was hit with six willful and 20 serious violations following the investigation that was opened after the worker entrapment. Proposed penalties total $258,900.

OSHA says the company failed to:

  • provide personal protective equipment -- such as a body harness and life line -- for employees working with stored grain
  • perform lockout/tagout procedures for the energy sources of equipment, such as augers and conveyors, while workers are inside the grain bins 
  • have a competent attendant present with rescue equipment when workers enter grain storage bins.
  • train employees about the hazards associated with grain handling
  • cover openings with grates in grain bins, and
  • ensure that workroom floors are clear of combustible dust and provide a preventive maintenance schedule for machinery

Minneapolis-based Horizon Milling was cited for 17 serious violations at its Saginaw, Texas facility, with proposed penalties of $57,000.

"It is very fortunate that no one was hurt at this facility," said Jack Rector, of OSHA's Fort Worth office, which inspected Horizon under the agency's emphasis program for grain handling facilities.

Inspectors found that Horizon: 

  • exposed workers to unsafe working conditions while involved in shipping and receiving, flour blending and maintenance
  • failed to enclose or guard sprockets and chains; guard pulleys 7 feet or less from the floor
  • failed to ensure that coverings were provided for panel, electrical pull and junction boxes
  • failed to guard or enclose vertical belts and rotating shafts and to provide strain relief on electrical circuits;
  • failed to ensure that exit access areas are at least the required 28 inches in width, provide at least two means of escape from galleries or bin decks; and install a mid-rail in the overhead storage location.

Horizon Milling employs about 85 workers at the Saginaw facility.

OSHA Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels sent a notification letter in August 2010 and another in February 2011 to a total of more than 13,000 grain elevator operators warning them of proper safety precautions. These include 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.