MONTICELLO, ILLINOIS, US — The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is alleging that a Central Illinois grain-handling cooperative exposed workers to serious engulfment hazards when soybeans collapsed inside a bin and engulfed an employee up to their waist.

An OSHA investigation at Topflight Grain Cooperative Inc. in Monticello, Illinois, US, found that two workers were clearing the bin of crops and debris when the Feb. 19, 2021, incident occurred. OSHA proposed $303,510 in penalties after identifying three willful, one serious, and one other-than-serious safety citations.

OSHA found the farmer-owned cooperative violated grain-handling safety standards. The agency issued willful citations for allowing workers to enter the bin without first locking out or de-energizing hazardous equipment, failing to post an attendant outside the bin to respond in case of emergency and allowing employees to enter a grain bin when there was 10 to 15 feet of grain build-up on the sides of the bin. OSHA also issued a serious citation for directing employees to work on top of railcars without fall protection and one other-than-serious citation for failing to test oxygen levels in a grain bin before directing employees to work inside the bin.

“Six in 10 grain engulfments result in the death of a worker but, like the incident at Topflight Grain Cooperative, they are entirely avoidable,” said Barry Salerno, OSHA area director in Peoria, Illinois, US. “OSHA works diligently with the grain and feed industry to enhance education and safety, but employers must follow industry recognized standards to protect their workers.”

Topflight Grain operates 15 facilities in seven Central Illinois counties with a combined storage capacity of 42.5 million tonnes, according to Sosland Publishing’s 2021 Grain & Milling Annual.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and 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.

Derrick Bruhn, Topflight general manager, issued the following statement to World Grain on Aug. 10: “We intend to take the opportunity afforded us under the OSHA Act to meet with OSHA and discuss these citations during an informal conference.  In doing so, we intend to address issues we have with the citations, particularly the willful characterization and associated fines.  In the event we decide to contest the citations, we look forward to working collaboratively with OSHA’s Peoria Area Office to further educate our employees and enhance our already-solid safety programs to ensure that everyone across our company is consistently following industry recognized standards as has always been our expectation.”