GREENWOOD, Miss. – Had federal workplace safety regulations been followed at a LeFlore County soybean farm, a South African teenager employed by its operator would have returned home and not suffocated inside a grain bin in October 2022.
After the 19-year-old, two co-workers and their supervisor climbed into a storage bin to unclog it, the soybeans inside shifted, trapping and then engulfing them in seconds. When emergency responders arrived, they cut a hole in the storage bin’s side to free the workers but needed five hours to recover the deceased worker.
Three of the workers involved in the incident were South African citizens, brought to work in LeFlore County under the H-2A temporary agricultural workers visa program.
Inspectors with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration determined that Bare Bones Farms in Greenwood willfully violated federal law by failing to ensure that the employees wore full body harnesses connected to a lifeline while inside the soybean bin, which exposed them to deadly engulfment hazards.
Investigators also learned the company failed to train employees on general safety precautions, including preventative measures for bin-entry procedures, and did not make sure workers de-energized the equipment and machinery before entering the soybean storage bin.
OSHA also cited the farm’s operator with serious violations for not having a written respiratory protection program for employees required to wear a respirator, and for not providing a medical evaluation, a fit test or training for workers required to wear respirators as they loaded and unloaded soybeans.
OSHA has proposed $90,182 in penalties for the violations.
“Well-known safety standards that protect people from the grave dangers of working in grain bins have been in place for decades, and yet Bare Bones Farms jeopardized the lives of its employees by ignoring federal regulations,” said OSHA Area Director Courtney Bohannon in Jackson, Mississippi. “As a result, the life of a young man who traveled more than 8,500 miles to work in the U.S. ended tragically.”
Rules and procedures for workers entering grain bins and safety procedures that all workers must follow have been in effect since 1988. In 2021, 38 percent of reported grain engulfments turned deadly because employers failed to follow required safeguards.
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.