DeBruce appeals U.S.$1.7-million fine over grain elevator explosion

by Teresa Acklin
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   KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI, U.S. — DeBruce Grain Inc. has appealed a U.S.$1.7-million fine assessed by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration stemming from a deadly grain elevator explosion in June.

   Seven employees were killed and 10 others were injured in the explosion at the company's grain elevator in Haysville, Kansas. The elevator is one of the largest in the world, with a storage capacity of about 570,000 tonnes.

   DeBruce has resumed partial operations at the heavily damaged elevator.

   The company filed its appeal in late December, just weeks after OSHA released its findings. The agency attributed the blast to excessive accumulation of dust, which ignited.

   DeBruce was cited for 25 alleged willful violations of the grain handling standard, each carrying a U.S.$70,000 penalty. These included nine alledged willful violations for failing to correct nine inoperative dust collection systems, four alleged willful violations for failing to install motion detection devices on four bucket elevators and four alleged willful violations for failing to equip four bucket elevators with belt alignment monitoring devices.

   DeBruce has responded that OSHA has refused to consider evidence it has submitted and that the federal agency is seeking a scapegoat.

   An informal meeting about the citations and fine probably will probably be held in early 1999, both sides said. If the matter cannot be resolved, the case most likely will go to an administrative law judge.

   “Both sides will be meeting to see if there are issues we can agree upon,” Tom Marple, director of OSHA's Wichita office, told the Kansas City Star. “Many times in a case like this, we wind up going to court.”

   Mark D. Hinderks, a lawyer representing DeBruce, told the Star that the company would “vigorously contest” the charges. “We feel strongly that the citations were erroneous in many respects, including some of the facts the agency chose to ignore,” Mr. Hinderks said.