Grain company faces $229k fine following employee fatality

By Aerin Einstein-Curtis contact

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/designer491
© GettyImages/designer491

Related tags: Osha, grain bin, safety

Interstate Commodities is facing multiple safety violation citations and a $228,592 federal fine following an investigation after an employee was fatally engulfed in grain.

The US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), announced the citations​on Friday [February 28] and placed the New York-based company in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program.

Employee Zane Fecht, 32, died following an incident at an Interstate Commodities, Inc.’s facility in Fremont, Nebraska in September.

“Grain industry employers are legally required to train workers, and provide them with appropriate rescue equipment prior to entering a grain bin,”​ said Matt Thurlby, Omaha area director with OSHA. “Tragedies such as this can be prevented when safety procedures and hazard control measures are implemented.”

Following notification of the violations reported by OSHA, the company has a period to address the citations and pay the listed penalties. The company has 15 working days to have an informal conference to address the issues or to contest them. The company can contest all of the citations or individual items and related penalties.

Safety citations detailed

Interstate Commodities is being fined $100,932 for 10 new safety violations reported by OSHA. The company was also fined $127,660 and cited for several repeat safety violations.

The citations reported included that the company is “failing to furnish employment and a place of employment which were free from recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm,” ​OSHA said. Reportedly, an employee worked while on a pallet raised about 20 feet by a material handler and without any fall protection.

The company also reportedly failed to “provide adequate training”​ to employees given special tasks including grain bin entry or handling toxic and flammable substances, the agency said. “Employee(s) who entered grain bins did not receive proper training in hazards including, but not limited to mechanical, grain engulfment, and atmospheric from poor grain quality.”

“On or about September 22, 2019, an employee in bin #5 suffered fatal injuries from grain engulfment while walking crusted grain,” ​OSHA said. “Employee(s) had also entered multiple bins prior to this date.”

The company also failed to ensure that mechanical and electrical equipment within a grain bin was disconnected or locked out and tagged before an employee entered, the agency reported. The employee who entered bin #5 did so while some pieces of equipment were still in operation.

“The employer is failing to prevent employee(s) from walking down or standing on grain to make it flow from a grain bin,” ​OSHA reported. “An employee entered grain bin #5, stood on the crusted grain, and used a pole in an attempt to make it flow – the employee suffered fatal injuries after being engulfed in the grain.”

In addition, the employee who entered the bin was reportedly not wearing a body harness or lifeline, the agency said.

Interstate Commodities did not have a trained or qualified program administrator to oversee the respiratory protection program or conduct needed evaluations of the program and it lacked a change schedule for respirator cartridges worn while employees monitored and opened “shipping containers treated with phosphine gas,” ​OSHA reported. “The employer is failing to provide effective respiratory protection training before employee(s) use respirator(s) in the workplace.”

The company also did not ensure that employees operating powered industrial trucks are able to do so safely or have finished the required training and evaluations, the agency said. And, the company failed to ensure that flexible electric cords were being properly used.

Repeated violations reported during the inspection included that employees were not medically evaluated before using a respirator and that employees told to wear a “tight-fitting facepiece respirator”​ did not pass the required qualitative or quantitative fit tests, OSHA said.

Interstate Commodities did not issue permits before employees entered silos, bins or tanks in the grain handling facility, a written housekeeping program to address grain dust accumulations was not created or implemented at the facility, a “compliant certification record” ​of regular mechanical equipment inspections was not kept, and the atmosphere in enclosed spaces was not tested for combustible gases or toxic agents prior to entry, the agency reported.

“The employer is failing to ensure that the atmosphere within grain bin #5, during two entries by an employee on or about September 22, 2019, was tested prior to or during entry,” ​the agency said. “An appropriate atmospheric monitor was not available in the facility.”  

Previously, the company had been cited for violating this safety standard at a facility in 2016, the agency added.

The company was also found to not have implemented a process to use tags and locks to stop equipment from being started while it was being “repaired, serviced, or adjusted,”​ OSHA said. “Employees are repairing grain handling equipment without the application of locks and/or tags for equipment including, but not limited to #1 leg and spout from the main pit. This hazard last occurred on or about December 2019.”

Interstate Commodities was also cited for this practice in 2016, the agency said.

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