Feed Company Cited After Maintenance Worker's Death

Working to clear crusted corn from the sides of a grain bin, a 52-year-old maintenance employee found himself engulfed in hundreds of pounds of grain, just minutes after the wall of corn collapsed and buried him

Mnet 173923 Caution

WEST POINT, NE — Working to clear crusted corn from the sides of a grain bin, a 52-year-old maintenance employee found himself engulfed in hundreds of pounds of grain, just minutes after the wall of corn collapsed and buried him. Rescued by emergency crews, he died of his injuries two days later.

Federal investigators found multiple violations of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards for grain handling at Prinz Grain & Feed’s facility in West Point.

On Nov. 3, the U.S. Department of Labor’s OSHA cited the animal feed facility for three willful, 15 serious and two other-than-serious violations after its investigation of the May 18, fatal injury. The agency has placed Prinz in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which focuses on recalcitrant employers that endanger workers by committing willful, repeat or failure-to-abate violations.

“An 'engulfment' often happens when 'bridged' grain and vertical piles of stored grain collapse unexpectedly, as in this tragic case. The density, weight and unpredictable behavior of flowing grains make it nearly impossible for workers to rescue themselves without help. In more than 60 percent of grain engulfments, workers suffer fatal injuries,” said Kim Stille, OSHA’s regional administrator in Kansas City. “OSHA urges employers and workers in this hazardous industry to review and implement OSHA’s grain-handling standards to prevent injuries and loss of lives.”

During its investigation, the agency found Prinz Grain & Feed failed to:

  • Issue confined space permits for entry into grain bins and pits.
  • Test atmospheric conditions in grain bins and pits before allowing workers to enter.
  • Provide training to employees on confined space entry.
  • Implement procedures to prevent sudden machine start-up or unintentional operation, a process known as lockout/tagout.
  • Provide rescue equipment suited for bin, silo or tanks being entered.
  • Train workers in grain handling hazards.
  • Issue “hot work” permits.
  • Examine powered industrial vehicles prior to use.
  • Provide protective equipment for the eyes and face.
  • Provide training to employees on the hazard communication standard.

OSHA has proposed penalties of $526,633.

In 2015, the industry reported 22 grain-entrapment cases nationwide. Of those, 4 percent occurred in commercial grain facilities and 82 percent occurred on farms exempt from OSHA compliance. In 2010, 51 workers found themselves engulfed by grain stored in bins, and 26 died — the highest number on record — researchers at Indiana’s Purdue University found. Purdue also reported that — of the more than 900 cases of grain engulfments reported since 1966 — 62 percent resulted in worker deaths.

 “OSHA has done extensive outreach in the past several years working with leaders, farmers and those employed in the grain and feed industry to increase awareness of hazards in the grain industry and discuss ways to protect workers on the job and prevent these tragedies,” said Jeff Funke, OSHA’s area director in Omaha. “OSHA is always available to answers questions on how you can protect your workers on the job.”

Headquartered in West Point, Prinz Grain & Feed also operates a storage facility in Beemer.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

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.

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