Bilings, MT (WorkersCompensation.com) - The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Cenex Harvest States Inc. for 19 violations of workplace safety and health standards, including 14 serious, three repeat and two other-than-serious violations, at grain-handling facilities in Montana. The company faces $211,000 in proposed fines as a result of four inspections at Montana facilities in Cut Bank, Glendive, Denton and Valier.
Cenex Harvest States' grain operations have been inspected 15 times since November 2008, which resulted in findings of multiple violations. Of those 15 inspections, five were at facilities in Montana, four in North Dakota, three in Iowa, two in Kansas and one in Texas. One of the Kansas inspections followed the death of a worker on June 29, 2010 who fell into an inadequately protected grain bin.
"Grain dust can be dangerous – and is more explosive than coal dust. Exposing employees to excessive levels of this fugitive dust and failure to provide rescue equipment for workers entering confined spaces can cause death or permanent disability," said Jeff Funke, OSHA's area director in Billings. "OSHA's standards exist to protect workers and must be followed to prevent these types of injuries."
OSHA issued three repeat violations to Cenex for failing to test the air quality in permit-required confined spaces for hazardous gases, contaminants, combustible dust or lack of oxygen prior to allowing entry by workers; for failing to have effective procedures to remove fugitive grain dust accumulations; and for failing to have safe electrical equipment in combustible dust areas.
The serious violations identified during the latest investigations by OSHA include inadequate confined space entry and recovery procedures, which can cause immediate death, incapacitation or impede the ability to be rescued; inadequate machine guarding, which exposes workers to amputations and lacerations; obstructed exit routes, which can lead to entrapment and engulfment; and live exposed electrical wiring. A serious citation is issued when there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.
Employers, especially those in high hazard industries such as the grain industry, must recognize as well as prevent workplace hazards. OSHA's Grain Handling Facilities standard, 29 CFR 1910.272, contains the rules that must be followed. For more information, visit www.osha.gov/SLTC/grainhandling/index.html.
Following a record number of grain entrapments in 2010 when 31 workers lost their lives, OSHA launched an education and enforcement initiative-that included outreach and compliance assistance-to prevent engulfments and fatalities in grain bins. This effort included sending letters to 13,000 grain elevator employers describing the common-sense methods that must be used to prevent these tragedies.
Cenex Harvest States Inc. has more than 10,000 employees in the United States. The company is headquartered in St. Paul, Minn., and operates through global grain marketing offices in North America, South America, Europe and Asia. The company purchases grain for domestic processing, feeding livestock and producing renewable fuel.
Many workplaces, such as grain processing facilities, contain spaces that are considered to be "confined" because their configurations hinder the activities of employees who much enter into, work in or exit from them. Confinement, limited access and restricted airflow can result in hazardous conditions that would not normally arise in an open workspace. Confined spaces may include underground vaults, tanks, storage bins, pits and diked areas, vessels, silos and other similar areas.
The employer has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and proposed penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA's area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.