Workers exposed to grain bin entrapment
Norwalk Reflector Staff
Jul 10, 2014 at 9:07 PM
Three employees of Sabina Farmers Exchange Inc. in Wilmington were found working inside a grain storage bin while a mechanical sweep auger, a machine used to push grain remaining at the bottom of a storage bin toward the bin’s opening, was operating.
This exposed the workers to severe injury and death by being engulfed in flowing grain. The U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration has cited the company for three repeat and six serious safety violations at the company’s grain bins in Wilmington and Sabina because of the complaint inspection. OSHA has proposed penalties of $50,051.
“A worker can be completely submerged in flowing grain within 60 seconds. More than half of all grain engulfments result in death by suffocation. Allowing workers to move grain while a sweep auger is running can cause the worker to become entangled in this dangerous equipment and submerged in the flowing grain,” said Bill Wilkerson, OSHA’s area director in Cincinnati. “Grain bin operators have a responsibility to protect their workers by taking the necessary steps to turn off all moving equipment before allowing workers to enter grain bins, if they must.”
Suffocation can occur when a worker becomes buried by grain as they walk on moving grain or attempt to clear grain built up on the inside of a bin. Moving grain acts like quicksand and can bury a worker in seconds. Bridged grain and vertical piles of stored grain can collapse unexpectedly if a worker stands on or near it. The behavior and weight of the grain make it difficult for a worker to get out of it without assistance.
OSHA’s National Emphasis Program for Grain Handling Facilities focuses on the grain and feed industry’s six major hazards. OSHA has published information related to common grain industry hazards and abatement methods, proper bin entry techniques, sweep auger use and other grain- related topics.
OSHA initiated an inspection of the Wilmington Sabina Farmers Exchange facility after receiving a complaint that workers were entering the grain bin while the sweep auger was operating, resulting in one of the repeat violations. Another repeat violation was cited for exposing workers to fire hazards from improperly maintained electrical boxes.
Four serious violations were issued at the Wilmington facility for failing to have an observer positioned outside the bin to maintain communication with workers inside; to develop a written housekeeping program to prevent grain bin dust accumulation; and exposing workers to damaged electrical wiring.
OSHA also inspected the Sabina Farmers Exchange facility in Sabina, which resulted in citations for one repeat violation for lack of guardrails on grain storage bins and lack of access ladder platforms that prevent employees from falling more than 9 feet. Two serious violations were cited for failure to protect workers from a machine’s moving parts and for using a damaged electrical cord.
OSHA issues repeat violations if an employer was previously cited for the same or a similar violation of any standard, regulation, rule or order at any other facility in federal enforcement states within the last five years. Sabina Farmers Exchange was previously cited for these violations in 2011. An OSHA violation is serious if death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard an employer knew or should have known exits.
Sabina Farmers Exchange 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 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 Cincinnati office at 513-841-4132.
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 http://www.osha.gov.