Cooperative Fined $721,000 by OSHA after Worker Becomes Engulfed in Frozen Soybeans
August 9, 2010
In recent employment news that our Santa Ana, CA employment attorneys have been following, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), part of the U.S Department of Labor's (DOL), has fined Cooperative Plus, Inc., a cooperative owned by farmers in Wisconsin, $721,000, for failing to have proper equipment and procedures, that lead to exposing employees to the dangerous possibility of being suffocated or engulfed in storage bins of grain.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are legally responsible for providing a safe and healthy work environment for their employees. In February of this year, a worker from Cooperative Plus, Inc., became entrenched in soybeans that were frozen and came up to worker's chest-level. The worker reportedly barely escaped death, after a rescue mission that took four hours.
According to Purdue University researchers, 38 entrapments in grain were documented in 2009. OSHA claims that grain entrapments occur as a result of employer negligence, violation of OSHA standards, and a lack of proper safety and health practices.
Secretary of Labor, Hilda L. Solis, claims that Cooperative Plus disregarded the safety standards that have long been in place to protect employees in the operations of grain handling, by knowingly exposing the worker to the possibility of suffocation and near death. Solis claimed that when employers disregard workplace standards it places American workers in grave danger, and the DOL will not tolerate such violations.
One of the clear employer violations of OSHA standards is allowing workers go inside storage bins filled with grain without appropriate protection, which puts the workers at risk of death. The Cooperative Plus citations come after a recent incident in an Illinois grain elevator, where two young workers were killed after being trapped in grain and suffocated. Another worker was rescued from the grain bin, after being engulfed in the grain for 12 hours. In another recent case, a worker for the South Dakota Wheat Growers Association was also killed from engulfment in a facility that handles wheat. OSHA fined the growers association over $1.6 million.
Based on the event at Cooperative Plus and other similar events that have lead to tragedies, OSHA sent a stern letter of warning to all operators of grain elevators this month, to make sure that workers who enter the storage facilities have the appropriate equipment, precautions and safety training. The OSHA administration has stated that they will enforce these standards, and ensure that employers who violate OSHA regulations will be held legally accountable for the safety and health of workers.
Cooperative Plus has been cited for ten willful violations, for neglecting to provide workers who enter the bins used to store grains with lifelines and body harnesses, and for failing to provide the workers with someone to observe them while working in the bins of grains. OSHA has also issued citations to employers for prohibiting workers inside the bin from walking on the grain, for failing to provide the appropriate equipment that could rescue workers going into the bins, and for neglecting to implement a plan in case of emergency. This is the third large penalty citation against operators of grain elevators for failing to prevent hazards, in the past ten months.
If you or someone you know in Orange County or throughout Southern California has an employment or labor issue dealing with safety and health in the workplace, our Anaheim-based team of experienced attorneys and professionals can help. Call us for a free consultation at 1-800-872-5925.
US Labor Department's OSHA fines Wisconsin grain cooperative$721,000 after worker is engulfed in frozen soybeans, OSHA Regional News Press Release, August 4, 2010
OSHA Grain Storage Facility Operator Letter, OSHA, August 4, 2010
Related Web Resources: