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April 24, 2023
Mississippi farm cited in South African worker's death

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced April 19 that Bare Bones Farms of Greenwood, Mississippi, is facing fines totaling $90,182 for willful and serious safety violations following the death of a teenage South African worker, who suffocated in a grain bin.

The 19-year-old, 2 coworkers, and their supervisor climbed into a storage bin to unclog it when the soybeans inside shifted, trapping and then engulfing them in seconds. When emergency responders arrived, they cut a hole in the storage bin’s side to free the workers but needed 5 hours to recover the deceased worker, according to OSHA.

Three of the workers involved in the incident were South African citizens brought to work in LeFlore County, Mississippi, under the H-2A temporary agricultural workers visa program.

OSHA inspectors determined that Bare Bones Farms willfully violated federal law by failing to ensure the employees wore full-body harnesses connected to a lifeline while inside the soybean bin, exposing them to deadly engulfment hazards.

Investigators learned the company failed to train employees on general safety precautions, including preventive measures for bin-entry procedures, and didn’t make sure workers de-energized the equipment and machinery before entering the soybean storage bin.

The agency also cited the farm’s operator with serious violations for not having a written respiratory protection program for employees required to wear a respirator and for not providing a medical evaluation, a fit test, or training for workers required to wear respirators as they loaded and unloaded soybeans.

“Well-known safety standards that protect people from the grave dangers of working in grain bins have been in place for decades, and yet Bare Bones Farms jeopardized the lives of its employees by ignoring federal regulations,” Courtney Bohannon, OSHA’s Jackson, Mississippi, area director, said in an agency statement. “As a result, the life of a young man who traveled more than 8,500 miles to work in the U.S. ended tragically.”

Veterans’ healthcare facility exposed workers to steam line hazards

On April 17, OSHA also announced the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs endangered maintenance workers at its healthcare facility in Prescott, Arizona, by allowing them to work on steam lines without ensuring they followed required safety procedures.

In 2021, OSHA issued nine notices of unsafe and unhealthful working conditions to the Veterans Affairs Connecticut (VACT) Healthcare system for one willful, three repeat, and five serious violations after two workers were fatally injured by a hot steam release at the VACT’s West Haven campus.

OSHA inspectors identified one willful violation and two repeat violations at the Prescott facility administered by the department’s Northern Arizona Veterans Affairs Health Care System and issued three serious notices for exposing employees to burns and other serious injuries.

“Despite the tragic and preventable deaths of two workers at a facility in Connecticut in 2020, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs allowed the same hazards to endanger employees working on steam lines at its Prescott, Arizona, facility,” T. Zachary Barnett, OSHA’s Phoenix area director, said in an agency statement.

Instead of OSHA citations, federal agencies are issued notices of unsafe and unhealthful working conditions and are required to demonstrate they have abated hazards but don’t face monetary penalties. A private sector employer could face penalties of up to $315,875 for similar violations, according to the agency.

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