Wisconsin grain handling facility exposes workers to engulfment dangers
Two to three seconds — that is how quickly flowing grain can trap a worker in a grain storage bin. Sixty seconds later, hundreds of pounds of grain can submerge and smother them. When it happens, more than half the time workers die by suffocation.
Federal safety investigators found workers faced with this and other dangers at Duffy Grain's Columbus facility when they visited the site in September 2015. They observed workers at risk of being engulfed in grain and entangled by operating augers as they cleaned storage bins.
The U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Madison area office cited the grain handling facility for two willful and six serious safety violations on March 11. OSHA has proposed penalties of $122,500 and placed the company in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program.
'Sending workers into a grain bin with the auger moving is extremely dangerous,' said Ann Grevenkamp, OSHA's area director in Madison. 'Duffy Grain knows the precautions that needed to be taken to protect its workers, but failed in their responsibility to follow them. Someone's life and well-being should never be the cost of doing business.'
The agency opened an investigation at Duffy Grain under the Grain Handling Industry Local Emphasis Program after receiving a complaint alleging unsafe working conditions. The program focuses on the grain and feed industry's six major hazards: engulfment, falls, auger entanglement, 'struck by,' combustible dust explosions and electrocution hazards.
Inspectors found the following.
·Moving grain hazards inside bins.
·The sweep auger and conveyer were operating when employees entered bins.
·Pulleys on augers and horizontal belts lacked guarding to prevent workers from coming in contact with operating parts.
·Observers did not monitor worker while they were inside the grain bin nor issue entry permits as required by confined space regulations.
·Body harnesses with lifelines were not provided when employees entered grain bins.
·Equipment suitable for grain bin rescue was not available.
·Atmosphere inside of grain bins for not tested for air quality.
After at least 26 U.S. workers died in grain bin entrapments in 2010 — the highest number ever recorded — OSHA focused its enforcement efforts on the grain and feed industry's six major danger areas. The agency also published information on common grain industry hazards and abatement methods, proper bin-entry techniques, sweep auger use and many other grain-related topics.
Duffy Grain Inc. operates grain elevators in Columbus and Marshall. Established in 1928, the company also includes a trucking company. The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA's area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
To ask questions, obtain compliance assistance, file a complaint or report amputations, eye loss, workplace hospitalizations, fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to workers, the public should call OSHA's toll-free hotline at 800-321-OSHA (6742) or the agency's Madison area office at 608-441-5388.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's role is to ensure these conditions for America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit www.osha.gov.