The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Bartlett Grain Company with five willful safety violations and eight serious safety violations after an October 2011 grain elevator explosion in Atchison killed six workers and left two others with serious injuries.
The willful violations arise from the company permitting grain dust — which is ten times more explosive than coal dust — to build up, using compressed air to remove dust without first disengaging ignition sources, jogging (repeatedly starting and stopping) inside bucket elevators to free gears choked by grain, using inappropriate electrical equipment within an explosive working environment, and neglecting to ensure that employees had used fall protection when working from heights.
“The deaths of these six workers could have been prevented had the grain elevator’s operators addressed hazards that are well known in this industry,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. “Bartlett Grain’s disregard for the law led to a catastrophic accident and heartbreaking tragedy for the workers who were injured or killed, their families and the agricultural community.”
The serious violations involve a lack of proper preventive maintenance of grain handling equipment; inadequate emergency and job hazard training for employees and contractors; and unsound cleaning practices that failed to prevent grain dust accumulation.
The citations to Bartlett Grain, which is based in Kansas City, Mo., carry $406,000 in proposed fines.
“OSHA standards save lives, but only if companies comply with them,” said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. “Bartlett Grain has shown what happens when basic safety standards are ignored, and this agency simply will not tolerate needless loss of life.”
A willful violation is one committed with intentional knowing or voluntary disregard for the law’s requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health. A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.
During the last 30 years, there have been over 500 explosions in grain facilities across the United States, killing more than 180 people and injuring over 675. Grain dust is the main source of fuel for explosions in grain handling. This dust is highly combustible and can burn or ignite if enough becomes airborne or accumulates on surfaces that are contacted by an ignition source (such as an overheated motor or sparks from welding or brazing operations). OSHA standards require that both grain dust and ignition sources be controlled in grain elevators to prevent potentially deadly explosions. For more information on grain handling, visit http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/grainhandling/index.html.
The citations to Bartlett Grain Co. L.P. can be viewed at http://www.osha.gov/ooc/citations/Bartlett_issued_04122012.pdf
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