MILTON, Wis. -- United Ethanol LLC has been cited for 15 health and safety violations by the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration after a worker was fatally engulfed in corn inside a grain storage bin on April 19 at the Milton ethanol manufacturing facility.
'This was a terrible, preventable tragedy that underscores the importance of safety compliance,' said Kim Stille, OSHA's area director in Madison. 'Engulfment is one of the six major hazards present in grain bin handling facilities. Employers are responsible for identifying hazards and ensuring workers follow proper procedures to prevent injury or death.'
The worker entered the grain bin in an attempt to unclog the floor chute and became engulfed when corn began to flow. The commercial grain bin held about 140,000 bushels of corn at the time of the incident.
One willful violation was cited under OSHA's grain handling regulations for failing to lockout conveyors used to empty grain bins, which exposed the now-deceased worker to the engulfment hazard. A willful violation is one committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for, or plain indifference to, employee safety and health.
Five serious violations of OSHA's grain handling standards include failing to guard floor chute openings; prevent exposure to moving grain hazards; prevent workers from entering bins when engulfment hazards exist; and failure to have an observer oversee entry procedures and to certify that all bin entry requirements had been implemented.
In 2010, following the deaths of at least 26 U.S. workers in grain bin entrapments-the highest number on record-OSHA focused its enforcement efforts on the grain and feed industry's six major danger areas. These include engulfment, falls, auger entanglement, struck-by, combustible dust and electrocution hazards. OSHA area offices in 25 states, including Wisconsin, have developed a local emphasis program dealing with grain. OSHA has also published information related to common grain industry hazards and abatement methods, proper bin entry techniques, sweep auger use and many other grain-related topics at www.osha.gov/SLTC/grainhandling/index.html.
The April fatality inspection resulted in OSHA initiating a comprehensive health inspection of the company's ethanol plant in May under the agency's national emphasis program for process safety management for covered chemical facilities. A total of 9 violations were cited.
Seven serious violations of OSHA's Process Safety Management standards include failing to develop emergency shutdown procedures for the ethanol distillation process; perform inspections and tests on control systems; perform storage of incompatible chemicals in close proximity; and annually certify that operating procedures for the distillation process were current and accurate and to correct deficiencies noted in June 2010 compliance audits.
A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.
Two other-than-serious violations involve failing to retrain ethanol distillation process operators at least every three years, and to consult workers on the development of refresher training and operating procedures.
Proposed fines total $140,000, following the two inspections. The current citations may be viewed at. http://www.osha.gov/ooc/citations/United_Ethanol_904760_1016_13.pdf* http://www.osha.gov/ooc/citations/United_Ethanol_901608_1016_13.pdf*
Due to the nature and severity of violations, the company has been placed in OSHA's Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which mandates targeted follow-up inspections to ensure compliance with the law. OSHA's SVEP focuses on recalcitrant employers that endanger workers by committing willful, repeat or failure-to-abate violations. Under the program, OSHA may inspect any of the employer's facilities if it has reasonable grounds to believe there are similar violations.
The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and notice of proposed penalties to contest the citations and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. If a company does not file or contest within that period, it must abate the cited conditions within the period ordered in the citations and pay the proposed penalties.
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 Madison Area Office at 608-441-5385.
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.