US grain elevator could see $51,920 OSHA fine imposed

By Aerin Einstein-Curtis contact

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock.com/BellPhotography423
© iStock.com/BellPhotography423

Related tags: Grain, Occupational safety and health, Osha

A Colorado-based grain elevator is facing a $51,920 financial penalty for alleged new and repeated violations to US worker safety regulations.

The violations reportedly found at High Country Elevators were posted​ Tuesday by the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

The site was initially reviewed as part of the agency’s regional emphasis program​ for grain handling facilities, which is designed to promote safe practices in feed mills and grain elevators, along with dust pelletizing plants, dry corn mills, soybean flaking operations, flour mills and rice mills, said OSHA. The localized program started in October and is set to run through September 2016.

 “Moving grain acts like 'quicksand' can bury a worker in seconds and, in many cases, leads to death by suffocation,”​ said David Nelson, OSHA's area director in Englewood, Colorado. “Vertical piles of stored grain can also collapse unexpectedly if a worker stands on or near it. These types of incident can be prevented by following some basic rules.”

In 2010, 51 workers in the US were engulfed by stored grain resulting in 26 fatalities, the agency reported.

Report details

The citations against High Country Elevator Inc contain mention of allegation related to a series of serious violations including the claim no tests were conducted to assess the conditions of an enclosed space before an employee entered and non-monitoring of the location. “Employees were exposed to potential health hazards where boot pits were entered for cleaning and other maintenance activities without the benefit of adequately testing and monitoring the atmosphere for potential respiratory hazards,”​ according to OSHA's findings.

Employees entering an enclosed space also did not have rescue lines attached outside the area, reported OSHA. And no observer was stationed outside of the grain storage bin in case of an emergency.

The facility also exposed workers to dust-based hazards as grain dust was allowed to accumulate in some areas, the agency said. “Employees were exposed to fire and or explosion hazards while performing work activities in priority areas in the main elevator where dust accumulations on the floor in the boot pit were in excess of 1/8 inch in depth,”​ it added.

Additionally, the company was cited for one willful violation because employees were allowed to enter spaces while machinery that could present a danger was still in use or was not prevented from being switched on, said the agency. A willful violation happens when an employer displays 'purposeful disregard' or 'plain indifference' to employee safety, it added.

“On or about March 15, 2016 and at times prior to that date, employees were exposed to caught-in and or amputation hazards where grain storage bins were entered while bin sweep augers and an unguarded leg conveying auger were operating,” ​it said.  

The company had been cited for that safety violation in 2011, the agency said. It also had repeat citations for not using body harnesses or lifelines and for not issuing permits to employees before they entered enclosed bins, silos or tanks.

What’s next?

The citation has to be posted near the location of the violations recorded or where it can be easily seen by all employees, the agency said. The document has to be displayed until the issue has been addressed or for three working days, whichever is longer.

High Country Elevator has a window of time to address the items noted in the report and pay the penalties set, or it can choose to respond to the citation contesting all or part of the violations, the agency said. The company can also challenge the proposed penalties and abatement timelines.  

It also has the option of scheduling an informal meeting with the agency within 15 days to discuss the items, said OSHA. “During such an informal conference you may present any evidence or views which you believe would support an adjustment to the citations or penalties,”​ the agency added.

“If conditions warrant, we can enter into an informal settlement agreement which amicably resolves this matter without litigation or contest," ​noted OSHA.

High Country Elevator did not respond to calls for comment by publication time. 

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