DECATUR, ALA–Alabama Farmers Cooperative Inc. has been hit with nearly $200,000 in proposed penalties after an investigation conducted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found a number of serious and life-threatening safety and health hazards, including extremely high levels of combustible dust. The company, headquartered in Decatur, provides a range of agricultural supplies and services to farmers in the state.
According to OSHA, the company was cited for two willful safety violations involving its improper handling of combustible dust. OSHA inspectors found the company failed to establish a housekeeping program to reduce the accumulation of combustible dust and to properly regulate the use of electrical equipment in the presence of the dust. Both violations incurred $126,000 in penalties.
High concentrations of any combustible material in dust form, which can occur in industrial factories and plants without proper ventilation and other dust-reduction measures, create a potential firebomb atmosphere. Even the smallest spark or flame can set off an explosion that can kill and maim workers and destroy entire buildings. OSHA warns that such combustible-dust explosions have killed hundreds of workers over the past few decades.
OSHA also cited the company for 13 serious violations with penalties of $65,700. According to OSHA, the company failed to provide working interlocks on the personnel elevator to prevent the door from opening when the elevator car was not present. Inspectors also found that the grain chute openings were not properly covered and open-sided floors and platforms were not guarded to prevent fall hazards.
They also cited the company for stairways without handrails and industrial equipment without safety guards. Workers were also exposed to dust 1.6 times higher than the permissible exposure limit, creating both a health and safety hazard. Total fines for Alabama Farmers Cooperative Inc. amounted to $191,700.
“Although this employer’s management is familiar with the safety issues associated with combustible dust, it still was allowed to accumulate throughout the facility, exposing workers to fire and explosion hazards,” said Roberto Sanchez, OSHA’s area director in Birmingham. “It is the employer’s responsibility to provide a safe and healthful workplace.”
For more information about combustible dust and federal regulations, go to http://www.osha.gov/dsg/combustibledust/index.html