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November 20, 2017
OSHA proposes massive fine for fatal grain dust explosion

A Wisconsin milling company has been hit with proposed penalties of more than $1.8 million following a May 31, 2017 explosion that killed 5 workers and injured 12 others. Among them was a 21-year-old employee who suffered a double leg amputation after being crushed by a railcar.

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Last week, OSHA concluded that the explosion likely resulted from the company’s failure to correct the leakage and accumulation of highly combustible grain dust throughout the facility and properly maintain equipment to control ignition sources. The company was cited with 14 willful citations, most involving fire and explosion hazards, and was placed in the agency’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program. Citations included egregious willfuls for violating OSHA’s grain-handling standard.

OSHA Chicago regional administrator Ken Nishiyama Atha said the tragedy could have been prevented had the employer addressed well-known hazards. “Instead, their disregard for the law led to an explosion that claimed the lives of workers, and heartbreak for their families and the community.”

Grain dust is highly combustible and can burn or explode if enough becomes airborne or accumulates on a surface and finds an ignition source. According to OSHA, there have been more than 500 explosions in grain-handling facilities across the U.S. in the past 35 years. These have killed more than 180 people and injured more than 675.

In the wake of the OSHA enforcement announcement the company issued a statement that it “continues to mourn the loss of our team members who died or were injured that tragic day in May—we will never forget what happened.” The employer said it does not agree with the severity of the penalties and is working with legal counsel to determine how to address the OSHA findings. It pledged to rebuild the affected corn-milling plant. “The new mill will utilize the latest technology and industry best practices, creating one of the most efficient, effective, and safe operations systems available.” The business said it continues to work with industry experts and other entities to determine the cause of the fatal incident.

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