By CARRIE ANTLFINGER
MILWAUKEE (AP) — The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has ordered a Wisconsin grain company to increase safety training for grain bin employees and pay a fine of $550,000.
Burlington-based Cooperative Plus Inc. was cited for 14 willful, 23 serious and two other safety violations in August 2010 for lacking proper equipment and procedures and exposing workers to the risk of being engulfed in storage bins.
The citations involve a February 2010 accident where a worker at the Burlington plan was buried up to his chest by frozen soybeans for four hours. The employee survived the accident. They also involve alleged violations at their Whitewater and Genoa City plants that include failing to test air for hazardous chemicals and failing to provide an adequate emergency plan.
Under the settlement announced Monday, the farmer-owned cooperative is required to increase safety training at its facilities in Whitewater, Burlington, East Troy and Genoa City. That includes scheduling rescue drills semiannually and providing 10 hours of training to new and current employees whose duties expose them to potential hazards. It was ordered to retain at least one independent safety consultant.
It’s also supposed to develop and implement a program on how to safely inspect grain and dislodge clumps of grain to empty the bin, among other things, and share the program with the industry nationwide through newsletters, farm bureaus and other education programs, said Department of Labor spokeswoman Rhonda Burke.
“The procedures and training that Cooperative Plus agreed to implement will ensure that these often deadly entrapments will not happen again,” Mike Connors, OSHA’s regional administrator in Chicago, said in a statement.
He noted that at least 26 workers were killed in grain entrapments nationwide last year, the highest number since researchers started collecting data in 1978.
The cooperative recently merged with Landmark Services Cooperative, based in Cottage Grove.
CPI attorney Eric Hobbs said the company has already paid the fine and is pleased to put the matter to rest. He said they’ve had no fatalities and they hope the changes they implement will prevent any in the future.
“Its concern has always been for the safety of its employees,” he said.