Grain Facility Fatality Brings Safety Fines

Friday, September 16, 2016 @ 12:09 PM gHale

As he cleared soybean debris, a 41-year-old elevator superintendent died of suffocation after his lifeline tangled in an unguarded and rotating auger.

There were multiple violations of federal safety standards for grain handling at the Cooperative Producers Inc. (CPI) Hayland facility in Prosser, Nebraska, said officials at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). CPI is now facing fines of $411,540.

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OSHA cited CPI for three willful and three serious violations following its investigation of the March 16 death. From 2011 to 2015, federal inspectors cited the Nebraska farmer-owned cooperative and joint venture CPI-Lansing LLC six times for violating grain-handling safety standards.

The agency placed the company in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which 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.

“The danger of entering a grain bin as an auger turns cannot be underestimated. By allowing employees to do so, CPI exposed workers to serious hazards such as being caught in the augers or engulfed in grain,” said Bonita Winingham, OSHA’s acting regional administrator in Kansas City. “OSHA’s grain-handling standards address the numerous serious and life-threatening hazards found in grain bins. CPI could have prevented this worker’s death if only it had adhered to common sense safety standards that protect workers in this hazardous industry.”

OSHA investigators determined three workers, including the elevator superintendent, had been standing over the unguarded auger using a pole in an attempt to dislodge soybean debris in a grain bin that contained more than 50,000 bushels of soybeans sloped 12 to 20 feet up its walls.

During its investigation, the agency found CPI failed to:
• Disconnect a subfloor auger before allowing workers to enter
• Test atmospheric conditions in grain bins before allowing workers to enter
• Implement procedures to prevent sudden machine start-up or unintentional operation, a process known as lockout/tagout
• Install adequate machine guarding to avoid contact with moving parts

Headquartered in Hastings, CPI operates 29 grain-handling facilities in South Central and Central Nebraska.

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