51-year-old worker fatally engulfed in Lake Preston, South Dakota, grain elevator

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OSHA cites Prairie Ag Partners for 1 willful, 2 repeat, 8 serious violations

LAKE PRESTON, S.D. -- A 51-year-old worker was fatally injured when he became engulfed in flowing grain in a railcar load-out elevator at Prairie Ag Partners. On March 15, 2014, the incident occurred when the worker attempted to remove a jam from a chute while the auger operated. The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited the Lake Preston-company for one willful, two repeat and eight serious safety violations, many involving OSHA's grain handling, permit-required confined space and fall protection safety regulations.

'A worker can be completely submerged in flowing grain within a matter of seconds. Allowing workers to move grain while machines are operating can cause the worker to become entangled in this dangerous equipment and become submerged. That is what happened in this case, and a worker paid with his life,' said Eric Brooks, OSHA's area director in Bismarck. 'If Prairie Ag Partners had followed basic safety standards, this tragic incident could have been prevented.'

OSHA's inspection found that Prairie Ag Partners allowed employees inside the grain bin while the auger and conveyor systems operated, despite a comprehensive safety and health program in place that outlined how to keep workers safe in the grain bin. This resulted in a willful violation issued. A willful violation is one committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirement, or with plain indifference to employee safety and health.

The company failed to complete a confined space entry permit before allowing workers to enter grain bins and to provide fall protection for workers exposed to falls of up to 60 feet while performing work activities around an unguarded floor opening in the main elevator shaft. OSHA regulations require fall protection for heights greater than 4 feet. Prairie Ag Partners was previously cited for these violations in 2010 at its Lake Preston and Oldham grain elevators.

OSHA issues repeat violations if an employer was previously cited for the same or a similar violation of any standard, regulation, rule or order at any other facility in federal enforcement states within the last five years.

Additional citations were issued for other violations related to OSHA's permit-required confined space regulations and grain handling standards. A confined space is one large enough for workers to enter and perform certain jobs, has limited or restricted means for entry or exit, and is not designed for continuous occupancy. OSHA found that Prairie Ag Partners failed to implement training and procedures for safe entry into the grain bin, including testing the atmosphere for the presence of combustible gases, vapors and toxic agents.

Prairie Ag Partners allowed grain bin dust to accumulate, which created a combustible dust hazard, and used equipment that provided a potential source of ignition for combustible dust. Other equipment lacked machine guarding, and the company failed to ensure the use of protective equipment, such as body harnesses with a lifeline, while employees performed required work operations in grain elevators.

An OSHA violation is serious if death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard an employer knew or should have known exists.

Prairie Ag Partners has been issued proposed penalties of $120,120 and was placed in OSHA's Severe Violator Enforcement Program.

To view current citations, visit http://www.osha.gov/ooc/citations/PrairieAgPartners_963718.pdf*.

Prairie Ag Partners employs about 60 workers and operates an agriculture company encompassing multiple departments throughout the South Dakota area. Grain departments are located in Arlington, Bancroft, Lake Preston and Oldham, and agronomy and feed departments are located in Arlington and Lake Preston.

OSHA's National Emphasis Program for Grain Handling Facilities focuses on the grain and feed industry's six major hazards. OSHA has published information related to common grain industry hazards and fixes, proper bin entry techniques, sweep auger use and other grain-related topics.

Prairie Ag Partners 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 & Health Review Commission.

To ask questions, obtain compliance assistance, file a complaint, or report workplace hospitalizations, fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to workers, the public should call OSHA's toll-free hotline at 800-321-OSHA (6742) or the agency's Bismarck Area Office at 701-250-4521.

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 http://www.osha.gov.

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