United Ethanol Cited After Worker Dies in Wisconsin Corn Bin

October 31, 2013

United Ethanol LLC has been cited for 15 health and safety violations by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration after a worker died inside a grain storage bin on April 19 at the Milton, Wis., ethanol manufacturing facility.

Proposed fines total $140,000.

OSHA reported worker entered the grain bin in an attempt to unclog the floor chute and became engulfed when corn began to flow. The commercial grain bin held about 140,000 bushels of corn at the time of the incident.

One willful violation was cited under OSHA’s grain handling regulations for failing to lockout conveyors used to empty grain bins, which exposed the now-deceased worker to the engulfment hazard.

A willful violation is one committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for, or plain indifference to, employee safety and health.

Five serious violations of OSHA’s grain handling standards include failing to guard floor chute openings; prevent exposure to moving grain hazards; prevent workers from entering bins when engulfment hazards exist; and failure to have an observer oversee entry procedures and to certify that all bin entry requirements had been implemented.

The April fatality inspection resulted in OSHA initiating a comprehensive health inspection of the company’s ethanol plant in May under the agency’s national emphasis program for process safety management for covered chemical facilities. A total of 9 violations were cited.

Seven serious violations of OSHA’s Process Safety Management standards include failing to develop emergency shutdown procedures for the ethanol distillation process; perform inspections and tests on control systems; perform storage of incompatible chemicals in close proximity; and annually certify that operating procedures for the distillation process were current and accurate and to correct deficiencies noted in June 2010 compliance audits.

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.

Two other-than-serious violations involve failing to retrain ethanol distillation process operators at least every three years, and to consult workers on the development of refresher training and operating procedures.

Due to the nature and severity of violations, the company has been placed in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which mandates targeted follow-up inspections to ensure compliance with the law.

OSHA’s SVEP focuses on recalcitrant employers that endanger workers by committing willful, repeat or failure-to-abate violations. Under the program, OSHA may inspect any of the employer’s facilities if it has reasonable grounds to believe there are similar violations.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and notice of proposed penalties to contest the citations and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

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