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Reports Raise Worker Safety Concerns at ADM

09 Feb, 2024 Liz Carey

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Decatur, IL (WorkersCompensation.com) - Reports from advocacy groups have raised concerns about worker safety at Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) after a series of accidents.

According to CU-Citizens Access, not only have OSHA investigations shined a light on safety incidents at the plant, but a look at open records requests by the investigative newsroom found that OSHA investigations only reported on a small number of incidents at the facility.

Between January 2023 and October 2023, CU-Citizen Access found, emergency medical services and local fire departments were dispatched to the plant nearly 70 times. Emergency medical services were called to the plant 51 times for everything from employees falling and breaking their legs to employees passing out or having a stroke. Fire crews were called 13 times for fire-related incidents, the report found. 

In one incident, the report found, just months before retirement on April 11, 2023, 66-year-old Robert Dautel was killed in an accident at the railyard in Decatur, Ill. Dautel was in a locomotive operated remotely by a trainee. Dautel was crushed when the locomotive hit a line of 25 stationary rail cars. An OSHA report into the incident found that the rail cars were placed too far forward the day of the incident, and OSHA found that ADM failed to provide an environment free of hazards that could cause death or serious injury.

In 2023, OSHA investigated conditions at the plant five times because of accidents that resulted in an employee’s injury or death, and has fined the company nearly $350,000 for six violations.

Most of those violations stem from an explosion in April.

On April 20, just nine days after Dautel’s death, an explosion in a grain elevator sent three employees to the hospital. OSHA’s investigation into the explosion resulted in a more than $320,000 penalty.

In an Oct. 18 report, OSHA found that ADM’s lack of preventative maintenance for the suppression system of a bucket elevator was a leading factor in the explosion. Inspectors said the suppression system on the indoor bucket elevator leg was non-functional and in a state of disrepair. Additionally, the investigators found, the grain processing facility had not conducted inspections or testing of the explosion suppression systems since 2016.

OSHA cited ADM for two willful violations, as well as on serious violation and one other-than-serious violation, and assessed a $328,796 in penalties.

"ADM knows the important role maintenance and testing plays in protecting the lives and health of their workers and their property from two previous explosions and yet failed to follow common industry practices and Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards to maintain these protective systems," said OSHA Area Director Edward Marshall in Peoria, Illinois. "Agriculture dust can explode in mere seconds when an ignition source is readily available. Dispersion of the dust particles can lead to rapid combustion known as deflagration. It causes explosions, worker injuries and extensive damage, as we saw in this case."

Previously, OSHA had cited ADM for not inspecting and testing critical safety systems in 2019 after an explosion in November 2018 at the company’s East Campus. In that incident, ADM agreed to conduct and document preventative maintenance on safety control equipment and to follow inspection procedures.

And in January 2019, an explosion and deflagration propagation event caused equipment and structural damage in the East Wet Milling Corn Plant, resulting in a detailed Hazard Alert Letter issued by OSHA to the company about equipment maintenance of explosion suppression and other systems.

In April, OSHA noted in a press release that the agency had an open inspection at ADM’s East Plant after another explosion and fire injured eight workers on Sept. 10, 2023, ad that the agency had issued citations to ADM on Sept. 29, 2023 after Dautel’s death. That investigation resulted in penalties totaling $15,625.

CU-Citizen Access also found that police responded to the plant in Decatur four times for life-threatening injuries. In one of those incidents, the victim had burns of 40 percent of his body surface, burns to his airways and swelling and soot around his nasal cavities, while another victim had burns over 30 percent of their body surface and possible damage to their airways.

Other incidents over the past 15 years, the CU-Citizen Access report found, included at least three other deaths and four employee injuries at the Decatur plant. Among those: a May 17, 2018 incident where an employee suffered multiple fractures to his skull, ribs, cheek and more when he was struck in the head by a filter which caused him to fall approximately six feet; a March 6, 2017 incident where an employee feel down an elevator shaft; and a Feb. 10, 2008 incident where two employees were killed from carbon monoxide poisoning.

A business agent with the Teamsters Local 916 told CU-Citizen Access that while its members typically work in the facility’s power plant, the union’s members have noticed that severe injuries routinely occur in other parts of the plant. He called it “safety by convenience.”

“The company claims to be a very safety-oriented company, but when employees and members of the union bring concerns to them, nothing gets done,” he said.

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    About The Author

    • Liz Carey

      Liz Carey has worked as a writer, reporter and editor for nearly 25 years. First, as an investigative reporter for Gannett and later as the Vice President of a local Chamber of Commerce, Carey has covered everything from local government to the statehouse to the aerospace industry. Her work as a reporter, as well as her work in the community, have led her to become an advocate for the working poor, as well as the small business owner.

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