OSHA Fines Company $229K after Grain Bin Fatality

One of Interstate Commodities' employees was fatally engulfed in a Nebraska grain bin last September.

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FREMONT, NE — The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited Interstate Commodities, based in Troy, NY, for grain handling violations after an employee was fatally engulfed in a grain bin at the company's Fremont, NE facility in September 2019. The company faces $228,592 in penalties, and has been placed in OSHA's Severe Violator Enforcement Program.

Osha LogoOSHA alleges that Interstate Commodities engaged in the storage and wholesale trade of agricultural commodities - violated grain handling standards by allowing the employee to enter the bin without a harness and lifeline. OSHA cited the company for seven repeat and 10 serious safety and health violations involving hazards associated with grain handling, falls, respiratory protection, powered industrial trucks and electrical safety.

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

The company has 15 business days from receipt of the 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 OSHA Section 1910.272(g), employers cannot permit an employee to enter a bin where an accumulation of grain on the sides or elsewhere could fall and engulf that employee. Engulfments often occur when bridged grain and vertical piles of stored grain collapse unexpectedly. Collapses may result when employees work on or near the pile, or when bin augers whirl causing the grain to buckle and fall onto the worker. The density, weight and unpredictable behavior of flowing grains make it nearly impossible for workers to rescue themselves without help. Flowing grain can trap a worker in as few as five seconds and engulf them within a minute. More than half of all workers engulfed in grain suffocate, while many others suffer permanent disability.

Grain industry employers must take steps to avoid grain that has bridged and clumped in bins. In the event of an engulfment hazard, employers should consider alternatives to entering a bin to get grain to flow. After addressing potential hazards, employers should use alternatives such as rodding the clumped grain from a safe location outside of the bin, vacuuming the grain, or using vibration systems or other devices to break up the grain without the need for workers to enter the bin.

To raise awareness of grain bin safety, OSHA and the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) will hold a Grain Safety Stand-Up, April 13-17. Employers are encouraged to review safety procedures with employees, conduct toolbox talks, involve employees in safety equipment inspections, develop rescue plans, and discuss job specific hazards. A national "kick-off" event will be held on April 13, 2020, at the Eastern Nebraska Research and Extension Center in Mead, NE.

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