The U.S. Department of Labor has reached a settlement with an Illinois grain handling company in the deaths of two teens in July 2010.
Haasbach LLC, which is no longer in business, will pay $200,000 in OSHA fines and $68,125 in civil penalties for Wage and Hour Division violations having to do with employment of workers age 18 or under.
Wyatt Whitebread, 14, and Alex Pacas, 19, died at Haasbach’s Mt. Carroll grain bin facility. A 20-year-old worker also was seriously injured.
The workers were “walking down the corn” in a bin to make it flow while machinery used to move the corn was running. All three became trapped in corn more than 30 feet deep. Whitebread and Pacas suffocated.
OSHA issued 12 willful, 12 serious and one other-than-serious violation of grain handling standards. OSHA originally set the amount of the fines at $555,000. The settlement amount is 36% of the original.
Under the Fair Labor Standards Act’s child labor regulations, certain jobs are considered too hazardous for anyone under 18 to perform and even more jobs too dangerous for those under 16. For example, requiring anyone younger than 16 to work in jobs involving warehousing or transportation, including in a grain bin operation, is a violation.
The case against Haasbach was notable for one other reason.
In the course of its investigation, OSHA subpoenaed Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Co. to present documents concerning inspections it made at the Haasbach facility.
Grinnell argued it would be irreparably harmed by turning over the requested documents to OSHA because they might find their way into the hands of plaintiffs filing lawsuits against the company.
The insurance company also predicted the subpoena would have a “chilling effect” by discouraging businesses from allowing insurers to conduct safety inspections if the documents could end up in OSHA’s hands.
A federal court rejected Grinnell’s arguments. It said the insurance company’s claim that it would be irreparably harmed was “unconvincing.” However, the insurance company could still claim that certain materials are subject to privilege under federal law. Grinnell would have to submit a log of those documents it wanted to withhold to a federal magistrate who would review the privilege claims.
Since 2009, OSHA has fined other grain operators in Illinois, Colorado, South Dakota and Wisconsin following similar fatalities and injuries.