ATLANTA, IL ‒ An Illinois grain cooperatives’ failure to make sure they followed required safety procedures contributed to how a 27-year-old worker suffered a partial amputation of his right leg when a paddle conveyor was left running when he and two other employees entered a soybean bin for cleaning.
Investigators with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration responded to the Aug. 15, 2022, injury at Topflight Grain Cooperative in Atlanta, Illinois, and determined the company violated OSHA’s grain-handling safety and lockout/tagout regulations that require powered devices be de-energized before workers enter bins.
OSHA found that the three employees were working over three unguarded holes in the bin which were above the conveyer when the incident occurred. The company failed to place a guard or cover over the holes leading to the equipment, or utilize guardrails or travel restraint systems in order protect the workers from falling into the equipment.
The agency has proposed penalties of $629,946.
OSHA issued four willful violations and one repeat violation for failing:
To protect the three workers from falling into the sump holes.
To deenergize equipment or use lockout/tagout methods to prevent the conveyer from operating when workers first entered the bin.
To lockout/tagout the outside leg distributor to prevent grain from entering and engulfing the employees while they worked in the bin.
To make sure the bin’s atmosphere was tested before the workers entered.
Topflight Grain Cooperative received OSHA citations for similar violations at a different facility in 2021.
“Topflight Grain Cooperative Inc. could have prevented this terrible incident, and had been warned about the potential hazards of grain bins when OSHA cited the employer for similar hazards at another facility,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Bill Donovan in Chicago. “Injuries can happen in seconds but incidents like these can be prevented when employers develop and follow companywide safety procedures each time workers enter grain bins.”
A farmer-owned grain cooperative based in Monticello, Illinois, Topflight Grain Cooperative Inc. serves grain producers in Piatt, Macon, Moultrie, Dewitt, Douglas, Champaign and Logan counties. The company annually moves 40 million bushels of grain through its facilities, and its grain sales exceed $240 million. They are members of Illinois’ Grain and Feed Association.
OSHA established a regional emphasis program for grain handling facilities in Illinois, Ohio and Wisconsin on Oct. 1, 2018, after investigating numerous injuries – including 28 fatalities in the preceding decade – and has worked extensively with the industry on outreach and education on grain handling hazards.
Through its alliance program, OSHA has partnered with the Grain Handling Safety Coalition, Grain Elevator and Processing Society and National Grain and Feed Association to address hazards, reduce risks and improve safety and health management systems to help prevent life-altering injuries and fatalities.
“OSHA’s cooperative industry alliances have helped reduce injury rates in this highly hazardous industry including a 17 percent decrease in grain entrapments from 2020-2021,” Donovan added. “Employers cannot afford to be complacent. By continuing to work cooperatively with industry partners we can educate and train employers and workers to prevent tragedies.”
The alliance has identified seven critical steps for grain safety:
‒ Turn off/lockout equipment before entering a bin or performing maintenance.
‒ Never walk down grain to make it flow.
‒ Test the air in the bin before entering.
‒ Use a safety harness and anchored lifeline.
‒ Place a trained observer outside of the bin in case of an emergency.
‒ Do not enter a bin where grain is built up on the side.
‒ Control the accumulation of grain dust through housekeeping.
From March 27-31, 2023, the National Grain and Feed Alliance will participate in its annual Stand Up 4 Grain Safety Week with a focus on making small changes for a big impact to improve safety in this high-hazard industry.
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.
Learn more about OSHA and industry-recognized safety rules for agricultural operations.
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