A Nebraska grain-handling cooperative faces massive monetary penalties for its failure to protect workers from potentially deadly grain bin entrapment and engulfment hazards.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said it cited Farmers Cooperative of Dorchester, Nebraska, with eight safety violations and nearly $380,000 in penalties following a grain-entrapment accident in one of its grain bins in May.
According to Omaha’s KETV Channel 7, Dave Maier, 55, entered a grain elevator at the Farmers Cooperative in Raymond, Nebraska, to check on a clogged auger. Workers at the grain facility were transferring soybeans between bins when the machinery become clogged.
As the clumped soybeans cleared, the grain shifted and knocked Mr. Maier off of his feet. The auger drew the cleared beans to the bottom of the bin and engulfed Mr. Maier up to his chest. Another worker was able to shut down the auger and prevent Mr. Maier from becoming fully submerged in the grain.
Unable to free Mr. Maier after cutting holes in the side of the bin, crews brought in a giant vacuum until they could pull him out.
OSHA takes grain-entrapment accidents very seriously and although Mr. Maier recovered from the incident, the agency sent inspectors to the facility the same day. Inspectors cited the cooperative for two willful, one repeat, and four serious safety violations.
“It is well known throughout the industry that entering a bin is extremely dangerous, especially while the auger is operating,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Kimberly Stille, in Kansas City. “Entering a storage bin should always be avoided – if at all possible.”
According to OSHA, suffocation from grain entrapment is the leading cause of death in U.S. grain bins. But despite the agency’s efforts to draw awareness to this danger, the number of grain-entrapment suffocation deaths in grain facilities continues to rise, prompting inspectors to hit violators with stiffer penalties.
In 2015, the industry reported 22 grain-entrapment cases nationwide. Of those, 4 percent occurred in commercial grain facilities and 82 percent occurred on farms exempt from OSHA compliance. The highest number of grain-bin deaths in a single year on record occurred in 2010, when 51 workers found themselves engulfed by grain stored in bins, and 26 died.