Atchison Elevator Fined Over Fatal Explosion

(WIBW/AP) - The Department of Labor has cited an Atchison grain elevator for an explosion that claimed six lives.

Federal officials say the October 29th blast could have been prevented if the company had addressed a series of safety problems. The government cited Bartlett Grain for five what it calls willful violations and eight violations termed serious. The violations include failure to keep grain dust from accumulating, lack of preventative maintenance and an inadequate emergency action plan.

"The deaths of these six workers could have been prevented had the grain elevator's operators addressed hazards that are well known in this industry," said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. "Bartlett Grain's disregard for the law led to a catastrophic accident and heartbreaking tragedy for the workers who were injured or killed, their families and the agricultural community."

OSHA is seeking $406,000 in penalties.

Topeka-based Kansas Grain Inspection service, which contracts with Bartlett Grain, also was cited with one willful violation of fall protection for employees working on the top of rail cars; one serious violation, the lack of a hazard communication program; and one other-than-serious violation, not providing basic advisory information about respirators to employees. The violations carry total proposed penalties of $67,500.

"OSHA standards save lives, but only if companies comply with them," said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. "Bartlett Grain has shown what happens when basic safety standards are ignored, and this agency simply will not tolerate needless loss of life."

Bartlett's president says he disagrees with the findings.

Bartlett is rebuilding and expects to have the new elevator open by September.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Following is the complete news release from the U.S. Dept. of Labor:

ATCHISON, Kan. – Bartlett Grain Co. L.P. faces five willful and eight serious safety violations cited by the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration following an October 2011 grain elevator explosion in Atchison that killed six workers and left two others hospitalized.

The willful violations include allowing grain dust – which is nine times as explosive as coal dust – to accumulate, using compressed air to remove dust without first shutting down ignition sources, jogging (repeatedly starting and stopping) inside bucket elevators to free legs choked by grain, using electrical equipment inappropriate for the working environment and failing to require employees to use fall protection when working from heights.

"The deaths of these six workers could have been prevented had the grain elevator's operators addressed hazards that are well known in this industry," said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. "Bartlett Grain's disregard for the law led to a catastrophic accident and heartbreaking tragedy for the workers who were injured or killed, their families and the agricultural community."

The serious violations involve a lack of proper preventive maintenance, certification and lubrication of grain handling equipment; inadequate emergency action plan training for employees and contractors; a lack of employee and contractor training on job hazards; and a housekeeping program that was deficient because it did not prevent grain dust accumulations.

The citations to Bartlett Grain, which is based in Kansas City, Mo., carry $406,000 in proposed fines.

Topeka-based Kansas Grain Inspection Services Inc., a contractor employed by Bartlett Grain, also is being cited for one willful violation involving a lack of fall protection for employees working on the top of rail cars; one serious violation, the lack of a hazard communication program; and one other-than-serious violation, not providing basic advisory information about respirators to employees. These violations carry total proposed penalties of $67,500.

"OSHA standards save lives, but only if companies comply with them," said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. "Bartlett Grain has shown what happens when basic safety standards are ignored, and this agency simply will not tolerate needless loss of life."

A willful violation is one committed with intentional knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health. 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. An other-than-serious violation is one that has a direct relationship to job safety and health, but probably would not cause death or serious physical harm.

Over the past 35 years, there have been more than 500 explosions in grain handling facilities across the United States that have killed more than 180 people and injured more than 675. Grain dust is the main source of fuel for explosions in grain handling. This dust is highly combustible and can burn or explode if enough becomes airborne or accumulates on a surface and finds an ignition source (such as a hot bearing, overheated motor or misaligned conveyor belt, as well as heat or sparks from welding, cutting and brazing operations). OSHA standards require that both grain dust and ignition sources be controlled in grain elevators to prevent potentially deadly explosions. For more information on grain handling, visit http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/grainhandling/index.html.

The citations to Bartlett Grain Co. L.P. and Kansas Grain Inspection Services Inc. can be viewed at
http://www.osha.gov/ooc/citations/Bartlett_issued_04122012.pdf* and
http://www.osha.gov/ooc/citations/KGIS_issued_04122012.pdf*, respectively.

Both companies have 15 business days from receipt of the citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA's area director in Wichita, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.


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