The South Dakota Wheat Growers Association has settled a case with OSHA involving the suffocation death of a worker in a sunflower seed silo.
On Dec. 22, 2009, Steve Lee climbed inside a bin at a Wheat Growers’ facility in McLaughlin, SD, to see why the flow of grain had slowed. Lee was engulfed.
OSHA’s investigation determined that five workers who tried to rescue Lee were also at risk of being engulfed.
According to the investigation, it was common for company managers to direct workers to enter bins while they were being emptied.
OSHA initially issued 23 willful citations and $1.61 million in fines to Wheat Growers for violations of grain handling and confined space standards. Putting workers who were trying to rescue Lee at risk added to the initial fines.
Some citations against Wheat Growers were withdrawn, some were changed and others were judged not to be willful. All of those changes cut the fines in half.
Wheat Growers says another factor in the reduction of the fines was recognition of its documented safety program that was underway at the time of the fatality and its ongoing training, education and community outreach programs.
Due to the number of recent fatalities in similar incidents, OSHA has placed an emphasis on inspecting grain handling facilities.
Wheat Growers is a grain and agronomy cooperative in North and South Dakota. It has more than 5,400 members in the two states.
Another Wheat Growers employee died in a forklift incident at a different facility in 2009.