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Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez
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News Release

OSHA News Release: [04/04/2011]
Contact Name: Rich Kulczewski
Phone Number: (303) 844-1302
Release Number: 11-0346-DEN

US Department of Laborís OSHA fines North Central Farmers Elevator in Ipswich, SD, $378,000 for exposing workers to grain engulfment

BISMARCK, N.D. The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited North Central Farmers Elevator in Ipswich, S.D., with six willful violations for exposing workers to being engulfed by grain. Proposed penalties total $378,000.

"It's fortunate that the North Central Farmers Elevator worker who was engulfed survived — because many don't. Grain entrapments are killing workers. Grain elevator owners and operators must implement well-known safety practices to prevent workers from being hurt or killed in a grain bin," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Dr. David Michaels.

At least 26 U.S. workers were killed in grain entrapments last year, and the numbers of entrapments are increasing, according to researchers at Purdue University. There were more grain entrapments in 2010 than in any year since Purdue researchers started collecting data on entrapments in 1978.

OSHA's area office in Bismarck began an investigation at the North Central Farmers Elevator facility in October 2010 following an incident in which an employee was engulfed by corn in a grain bin. The alleged violations relate to grain and confined spaces, and address the failure of the employer to ensure that lockout/tagout procedures were followed to prevent accidental energy start-up, complete confined space and grain bin entry permits, perform required atmospheric testing, protect employees from engulfment hazards, provide an entrance observer and prohibit entry into grain bins where bridging conditions exist. A willful violation exists when an employer has demonstrated either an intentional disregard for the requirements of the law or plain indifference to employee safety and health.

Since 2009, OSHA has issued fines exceeding $100,000 per employer to grain operators across the country following preventable fatalities and injuries. In addition to enforcement actions, OSHA sent a notification letter in August 2010 and another in February 2011 to a total of more than 13,000 grain elevator operators warning them of proper safety precautions, including prohibiting entry in grain storage facilities while grain is being emptied out or flowing in or out of the bin, prohibiting employees from walking down the grain and ensuring that employees enter the bin with the proper safety equipment.. "OSHA will not tolerate noncompliance with the Grain Handling Facilities standard," said Michaels in both letters. "We will continue to use our enforcement authority to the fullest extent possible." The February 2011 letter is available at http://www.osha.gov/asst-sec/Grain-Letter-2-1-2011.html.

In Denver, Colo., a regional emphasis program has been implemented for the grain handling industry to address serious hazards, and OSHA area offices in Colorado, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota are providing assistance to help grain storage facilities comply with safety standards.

At the time of the investigation, the workers' compensation carrier insuring North Central Farmers Elevator was Wausau Underwriters Insurance Co., headquartered in Boston. North Central Farmers Elevator, which operates 17 grain handling and agronomy facilities throughout North Dakota and South Dakota, 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. OSHA's Bismarck Area Office can be reached at 701-250-4521. To report workplace incidents, fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to workers, call the agency's toll-free hotline at 800-321-OSHA (6742).

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.