The November, 2011, OSHA nailed New York animal feed processor Harbor Point Mineral Products for 21 workplace safety standard violations uncovered following OSHA’s investigation of the death of a worker in a grain silo accident. The worker was fatally engulfed by cotton seed stored in a silo on May 11, 2011. The action illustrates the need for grain silo and other similar operators to audit and maintain appropriate safety compliance to guard against OSHA liability.
An inspection by OSHA’s Syracuse Area Office found that employees had not been trained on the hazards associated with entering a silo and were not equipped with an approved lifeline. In addition, the atmosphere inside the silo had not been sampled for oxygen deficiency and the energy source of the silo’s augur had not been locked out prior to entry. Due to the employer’s knowledge of and failure to address these hazards, OSHA issued citations for four willful violations. A willful violation exists when an employer has demonstrated either an intentional disregard for the requirements of the law or plain indifference to employee safety and health.
OSHA also cited the company for 17 serious violations for a variety of additional safety and health hazards. These included allowing an employee to “walk down” the grain; the lack of rescue equipment and training; employees overexposed to grain dust and the lack of controls to reduce the exposure level; respiratory and hazard communication deficiencies; and fall hazards from unguarded ladder, floor and wall openings.
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. See citations here and here.
In response to these citations, OSHA notified Harbor Point that it faced proposed penalties totaling $155,200 and placed Harbor Point in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP), which mandates targeted follow-up inspections to ensure compliance with the law. Initiated in June 2010, the program focuses on “recalcitrant employers” that OSHA views as endangering workers by committing willful, repeat or failure-to-abate violations. For more information on SVEP, see here.
OSHA also has fined grain operators in Wisconsin, Illinois, Colorado, South Dakota, Ohio and Nebraska following preventable fatalities and injuries. In addition to enforcement actions and training, OSHA Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels sent a notification letter in August 2010 and another in February 2011 to grain elevator operators warning them of proper safety precautions. For a copy of the letter, visit here.
Grain operators and related workers are not the only industry receiving enforcement attention. OSHA generally investigations any accident resulting in a worker death or serious injury, as well as conducts audits of a broad range of employers with some industries targeted for special attention based on what OSHA perceives as heightened hazards or noncompliance within the industry.
According to OSHA, the overall most commonly sited OSHA violations include several common to these industries. OSHA’s “Top 10” list of safety protection standard violations include scaffolding, fall protection, hazard communications, respiratory protection, lockout/tagout, electrical, wiring methods, powered industrial trucks, ladders, electrical general requirements, machine guarding and machine guarding.
Grain silo and other employers should review safety practices and compliance for compliance with these and all other standards and to address other potential safety risks to minimize OSHA and other occupational injury related liabilities. and ensure their documentation of these efforts meets OSHA requirements and also positions the employer to defend against potential sanctions in the event of an employee injury or OSHA audit.
Because of the heavy use of subcontractors in these industries, employers also should be cognizant of potential exposures that can result from other businesses and workers on site.
In addition, employers should take care to ensure that all required documentation of safety practices and notifications dictated by OSHA are maintained and properly preserved.
In the event of an accident or other safety hazard event, employers also should engage counsel and other needed experts to timely investigate, provide notification and redress and manage resulting exposures under OSHA, worker’s compensation and other laws.
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Immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice-Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee and past Vic e-Chair of its Worker’s Compensation Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer is recognized, internationally, nationally and locally for her more than 24 years of work, advocacy, education and publications on health and other employee benefit and related workforce, insurance and health care matters.
A board certified labor and employment attorney widely known for her extensive and creative knowledge and experienced with employment, health and safety, employee benefits, compensation and other internal controls and workforce matters. She has 24 plus years experience helping employer and other clients develop and operate legally defensible programs, practices and policies that promote the client’s human resources, employee benefits and other management goals. Ms. Stamer also is a widely published author and highly regarded speaker on these and other human resources matters who is active in many other employee benefits, human resources and other management focused organizations.
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