US Labor Department's OSHA cites grain elevator operator
with safety violations following worker death in Taft, Texas
TAFT, Texas – The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Taft Grain & Elevator Co. with four willful and 16 serious violations following the death of an employee who became engulfed in grain at the company's work site in Taft.
"Tragically, a worker was killed when he became trapped in a grain storage facility and engulfed by grain," said Michael Rivera, OSHA's area director in Corpus Christi. "Grain elevator owners and operators must implement and follow well-known safety practices to prevent workers from being hurt or killed in grain bins."
At least 26 U.S. workers were killed in grain entrapments last year, and the number of entrapments is increasing, according to researchers at Purdue University. There were more grain entrapments in 2010 than in any year since Purdue researchers started collecting data on entrapments in 1978.
OSHA's Corpus Christi Area Office initiated its inspection Nov. 9, 2010, following a report of an employee who died from being engulfed by grain at the company's facility on North Highway 81. An additional inspection was performed on Nov. 17 under the OSHA Regional Emphasis Program for Grain Handling Facilities, which covered all processes at the company's facility.
The willful violations include failing to provide a body harness and lifeline to employees working on stored grain, lock and tag out equipment during grain storage building entry to prevent accidental energy start-up and have an attendant present with rescue equipment during grain storage bin entry. A willful violation is one committed with intentional knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.
Serious violations include failing to ensure that employees were trained in hazards associated with grain handling, protect employees from falls by providing harnesses, and clean combustible dust from workroom floors and other surfaces. A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.
Since 2009, OSHA has issued fines exceeding $100,000 per employer to grain operators across the country following preventable fatalities and injuries. In addition to enforcement actions, OSHA sent a notification letter in August 2010 and another in February 2011 to a total of more than 13,000 grain elevator operators warning them of proper safety precautions, including prohibiting entry in grain storage facilities while grain is being emptied out or flowing in or out of the bin, prohibiting employees from "walking down the grain" and ensuring that employees enter the bin with the proper safety equipment. "OSHA will not tolerate noncompliance with the Grain Handling Facilities standard," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Dr. David Michaels in both letters. "We will continue to use our enforcement authority to the fullest extent possible." The February letter is available at http://www.osha.gov/asst-sec/Grain-Letter-2-1-2011.html.
Taft Grain & Elevator, which employs more than 20 workers, was fined $188,000 for the citations and has 15 business days from receipt to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA's area director in Corpus Christi, or contest the citations and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
Employers and employees with questions regarding workplace safety and health standards can call OSHA's Corpus Christi office at 361-888-3420 or the agency's toll-free hotline at 800-321-OSHA (6742) to report workplace incidents, fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to workers.
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.
U.S. Department of Labor news materials are accessible at http://www.dol.gov. The information above is available in large print, Braille, audio tape or disc from the COAST office upon request by calling 202-693-7828 or TTY 202-693-7755.