Attorneys in Epstein Becker & Green’s national OSHA Practice Group represented a major grain handler in Illinois who received one of these sweep auger citations. The firm dealt with an OSHA Area Director and Regional Administrator who were uniquely knowledgeable about sweep augers from personal experience in agriculture, and who were willing to work with the employer in the case to develop a set of safety principles that would satisfy the “equally effective means or methods” language of the Grain Standard.
In this case, the company did allow employees to work inside grain bins with energized sweep augers, but it also employed a combination of administrative and engineering controls to ensure that no employee was ever within the zone of danger. The law firm contested the citation, and initiated a lengthy settlement discussion with the OSHA area director and the solicitor’s office to address the citations and the overall landscape of sweep auger enforcement in the industry.
The agency ultimately agreed to withdraw all of the citations and associated penalties, and the parties were able to agree to settlement terms that would provide guidance to the entire industry about sweep auger operations. The end result was a settlement agreement that incorporated a set of 10 Sweep Auger Safety Principles, which if satisfied, OSHA would allow an employee to work inside a grain bin with an energized sweep auger.
The 10 Sweep Auger Safety Principles were sent to OSHA’s national office in Washington, D.C., where they were reviewed and approved for settlement purposes, and, according to the Area Director and Regional Administrator, could be publicized for the industry’s benefit.
It remains to be seen what the agency’s enforcement philosophy will be, and whether there is consistent application of these principles in all OSHA regions. Regardless, this settlement and the corresponding 10 Sweep Auger Safety Principles reflect a major step in the right direction in the partnership between the ag industry and OSHA.
Amanda R. Strainis-Walker is a senior OSHA associate in the Labor and Employment Practice at Epstein Becker Green’s Washington, D.C. office. She focuses her practice on occupational safety and health law. Eric J. Conn is the head of the firm’s national OSHA Practice Group and leads the efforts to provide occupational safety and health services to its clients. He focuses his practice on all aspects of occupational safety and health law.