Grain elevatorsUnited Ethanol LLC has been cited for 15 health and safety violations by OSHA after a worker was fatally engulfed in corn inside a grain storage bin on April 19 at the company’s Milton, Wisc. ethanol manufacturing facility.

The worker entered the grain bin in an attempt to unclog the floor chute and became engulfed when corn began to flow. The commercial grain bin held about 140,000 bushels of corn at the time of the incident.

"This was a terrible, preventable tragedy that underscores the importance of safety compliance," said Kim Stille, OSHA's area director in Madison.

Six major danger areas

In 2010, following the deaths of at least 26 U.S. workers in grain bin entrapments-the highest number on record-OSHA focused its enforcement efforts on the grain and feed industry's six major danger areas. These include engulfment, falls, auger entanglement, struck-by, combustible dust and electrocution hazards. OSHA area offices in 25 states, including Wisconsin, have developed a local emphasis program dealing with grain. OSHA has also published information related to common grain industry hazards and abatement methods, proper bin entry techniques, sweep auger use and many other grain-related topics at

The OSHA inspection following the United Ethanol fatality resulted in citations for failing to:

  • lockout conveyors used to empty grain bins, which exposed the now-deceased worker to the engulfment hazard.
  • guard floor chute openings; prevent exposure to moving grain hazards
  • prevent workers from entering bins when engulfment hazards exist
  • have an observer oversee entry procedures and to
  • certify that all bin entry requirements had been implemented.

Seven serious violations of OSHA's Process Safety Management standards include failing to develop emergency shutdown procedures for the ethanol distillation process; perform inspections and tests on control systems; perform storage of incompatible chemicals in close proximity; and annually certify that operating procedures for the distillation process were current and accurate and to correct deficiencies noted in June 2010 compliance audits.

Proposed fines total $140,000, following the two inspections.

Due to the nature and severity of violations, the company has been placed in OSHA's Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which mandates targeted follow-up inspections to ensure compliance with the law. OSHA's SVEP focuses on recalcitrant employers that endanger workers by committing willful, repeat or failure-to-abate violations. Under the program, OSHA may inspect any of the employer's facilities if it has reasonable grounds to believe there are similar violations.