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OSHA report cites United Ethanol

Nov. 8, 2013 | 0 comments


Federal workplace safety officials reported last week on the death of a Janesville man in a grain bin at United Ethanol in Milton, citing the ethanol plant for health and safety violations that led to the death.

Jerod Guell was killed in April when he entered a grain bin to dislodge corn from an outlet and the corn started to flow, burying him.

At the time of the accident there were 140,000 bushels of corn in the bin, far short of its 680,000-bushel capacity.

Police who responded to the call said it was the first significant accident at the plant though there have been complaints about odor.

On April 19 local emergency crews from 16 fire departments, as well as local police and the county sheriff's department, deployed 100 personnel to search for Guell. After 12 hours they found his body.

Now the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has ruled that United Ethanol, "knowingly" exposed the employee to a hazard that led to his death by failing to lock out conveyors, which the agency called a "willful" violation.

Guell, 27, of Janesville is survived by his wife and young son. He had worked for seven years at the ethanol plant, which began operations in 2007.

According to Wisconsin State Journal, OSHA proposed a fine of $140,000 and placed United Ethanol in its program for targeted inspections to ensure compliance with regulations.

The agency said the ethanol plant failed to guard floor chute openings and failed to prevent workers' exposure to moving grain. It had not prevented workers from entering bins when engulfment hazards exist and did not have an observer oversee entry procedures – which could have ensured Guell's safety.

Guell's disappearance that day was discovered when a co-worker's radio calls to him were not returned.

There is a photo of Guell, whom the company called a "valued employee and friend," posted on the United Ethanol website - www.unitedethanol.com - along with a link to a memorial fund the company started at a Milton bank for the benefit of his family.

"Jerod Guell was an outstanding employee and will be truly missed by his friends at United Ethanol," said David Cramer, United Ethanol president and chief executive officer, in a blog post on the company website Aprill 22.

United Cooperative of Beaver Dam is the managing member of United Ethanol, a plant that processes 15-18 million bushels of corn per year to produce 42-50 million gallons of ethanol per year, according to its website.

That process produces 139,000-162,000 tons of dried distillers grain per year along with 15,000-16,000 tons of wet distillers grain.

United Ethanol was also cited in last week's report for seven "serious" violations of OSHA's Process Safety Management standards, according to several news reports.

Those included failing to develop emergency shutdown procedures for the ethanol distillation process; failure to perform inspections and tests on control systems; storage of incompatible chemicals in close proximity; and failure to annually certify that operating procedures for the distillation process were current and accurate.

In its report last week the agency said what it calls a "serious" violation occurs "when there is substantial probability that death or serious harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known."

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