OSHA issues fines for agricultural products manufacturer after silo engulfment

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited grain, feed and agricultural products maker McDowell & Walker Inc. for several safety violations at its Afton plant in New York State, the regulator announced this month.

On November 29, 2021, an untrained employee was ordered into a grain silo at the Afton site to clear an accumulation of feed that was clogging an entry point to the silo. As he cleared the blockage, the conveyor transporting feed into the silo activated, partially engulfing the worker in leftover feed. A co-worker helped the employee avoid serious injury.

An inspection by OSHA determined that McDowell & Walker had put the worker at risk of engulfment by failing to follow legally required safety precautions for handling grain.

OSHA specifically cited the company for failing to provide the worker with a required safety harness along with a lifeline or bosun’s chair and other lifesaving equipment before entering the trash can; de-energize, lock out, and tag out the conveyor and food-carrying chutes to prevent them from operating with the employee in the bin; complete an entry permit to control hazards in the grain silo before ordering workers to enter; and train workers in the hazards of handling grain, including entering confined spaces, loading feed into trucks, bagging feed, transporting feed into silos, and related household chores .

A number of other hazards were also identified by OSHA inspectors at the Afton plant related to incomplete programs to reduce accumulations of flammable grain dust on ledges, floors, equipment and other exposed surfaces; exit routes blocked; risks of falling and tripping drill column poorly anchored and protected; and incomplete inspection certificates.

“McDowell & Walker Inc.’s failure to follow required safety practices nearly cost a worker his life,” OSHA Regional Manager Jeffrey Plebish in Syracuse, NY, said in an agency statement. “They must provide the training and equipment required by OSHA’s Grain Handling Facility Standard to ensure workers are protected from grain handling hazards.”

OSHA cited the company for two willful, nine serious and three non-serious violations of workplace safety standards and proposed $203,039 in fines. McDowell & Walker meets the requirements of OSHA’s Serious Violation Enforcement Program.

Amalia H. Mercado