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Region 8

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Region 8 News Release: 11-1289-SEA (11-201)
Sept. 6, 2011
Contact: Michael Shimizu
Phone: 206-553-7620

US Department of Labor's OSHA cites Cenex Harvest States in
Columbus, Mont., for violations found in grain elevator areas

COLUMBUS, Mont. – The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Cenex Harvest States Inc., doing business as Central Montana Co-Op in Columbus, for one willful, three repeat and nine serious safety and health violations found in the grain elevator areas of the company's facility. The investigation was initiated under OSHA's regional emphasis program targeting grain handling establishments. Proposed fines total $229,000.

The willful violation was cited for failing to test for hazardous atmospheres in permit-required spaces. 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.

The repeat violations involve unguarded pit and floor holes, and unacceptable accumulations of potentially explosive dust. A repeat violation exists when an employer previously has been cited for the same or a similar violation of a standard, regulation, rule or order at any other facility in federal enforcement states within the last five years. OSHA cited the company in August 2010 at its Courtenay, N.D., location and in February 2011 at its Wolf Point, Mont., location.

The serious violations involve unguarded platforms, walkways with uncovered holes, improper design of ladders, a lack of implementation of a housekeeping program for combustible dust, no communication provided during permit-required confined space entries, a lack of atmospheric monitoring before entering grain storage structures and improper electrical wiring for high dust areas. 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.

"The hazards associated with grain handling operations are well recognized," said Christine A. Webb, OSHA's area director in Billings. "All employers, especially those engaged in high-hazard activities such as those found in the grain industry, must take the steps necessary to create a safe and healthful workplace."

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. These include 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

The Cenex Harvest States citations are available at*.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA's area director in Billings or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. The inspection was conducted by OSHA's Billings Area Office; telephone 406-247-7494.

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


U.S. Department of Labor news materials are accessible at 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.

* Accessibility Assistance: Contact OSHA's Office of Communications at 202-693-1999 for assistance accessing PDF materials.