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OSHA proposes fines of more than $1.7 million against Kansas grain storage company
"Unforgivable" working conditions at a Kansas grain storage facility that triggered a deadly explosion last June have resulted in more than $1.7 million in proposed penalties to DeBruce Grain, Inc., Secretary of Labor Alexis M. Herman announced today.
Herman said that inspectors from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found grain dust accumulations in some places many times the depth considered safe. Seven employees died and 10 were injured when excessive grain dust ignited and caused a series of explosions throughout the facility.
OSHA cited the facility's owner for 25 alleged willful violations of the grain handling standard. The half mile-long facility in Haysville, Kan., is one of the largest in the world and has a capacity of 24 million bushels. Haysville is southwest of Wichita.
"It is unforgivable that DeBruce officials would so callously disregard federal safety standards and risk the lives of their workers," said Herman. "No monetary penalty can replace the lives lost nor make up for the pain suffered by those injured. American workers must not become victims to indifference."
OSHA inspections determined that the unsafe conditions were due principally to inadequate or improper housekeeping, inadequate maintenance and inoperable dust collection systems. Current standards require removal of grain dust in priority areas when it exceeds one-eighth inch.
"DeBruce purchased this facility two years ago knowing there were operating deficiencies that needed repair," said Charles Jeffress, assistant secretary of labor for OSHA. "In fact, excessive dust conditions were obvious and had been previously pointed out to DeBruce management. That same staff, with more than 75 years of collective experience in the grain handling industry, knows OSHA requirements and ignored them. They placed their employees at risk and seven of them paid with their lives."
Seventeen of the 25 alleged willful violations are being proposed as "instance-by-instance" carrying penalties of $70,000 each. They include nine alleged willful violations for failing to correct nine inoperative dust collection systems; four alleged willful violations for failing to install motion detection devices on four bucket elevators (which would shut down the elevator when belt speeds decreased below normal); and four alleged willful violations for failing to equip four bucket elevators with belt alignment monitoring devices. Those devices sound alarms to employees when a conveyor belt is not tracking properly. The total penalty for all 25 alleged willful violations totals $1,720,000.
The company was also cited with 10 alleged serious violations, totaling $25,500, involving inadequate storage of flammable and combustible materials, unsafe guarding of pulleys and belts, violations of the respiratory protection standard and failure to maintain records of inspections.
DeBruce has 15 working days to contest the citations and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
DeBruce employs 250 workers in facilities in Nebraska, Texas, Iowa and Kansas. Twenty-five employees, including temporary workers, were based at the Haysville site. The DeBruce facilities have a combined capacity of 44 million bushels.
The Haysville grain elevator, originally built in 1954, was inspected by OSHA before DeBruce bought it. OSHA conducted two previous inspections at a DeBruce terminal elevator in Nebraska. Those inspections resulted in a total of four alleged violations; however, none of those conditions are related to the alleged violations at the Haysville site.
OSHA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency have agreed to share information associated with grain dust accumulation in storage facilities. The memorandum of agreement, signed June 21, is designed to ensure cooperation and information sharing between the two agencies to better promote safety of employees in such facilities, as well as to protect the quality of the stored product.
The news release text is on the Internet World Wide Web at http://www.osha.gov/ under media releases. Information on this news release will be made available to sensory impaired individuals upon request. Voice phone: (202) 693-1999.
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