The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Harbor Point Mineral Products, a processor of animal feed in Utica, for 21 violations of workplace safety standards following the May 11 death of an employee who was fatally engulfed by cotton seed stored in a silo.
An inspection by OSHA's Syracuse Area Office found that employees had not been trained on the hazards associated with entering a silo and were not equipped with an approved lifeline.
In addition, the atmosphere inside the silo had not been sampled for oxygen deficiency and the energy source of the silo's augur had not been locked out prior to entry.
Due to the employer's knowledge of and failure to address these hazards, OSHA issued citations for four willful violations.
A willful violation exists when an employer has demonstrated either an intentional disregard for the requirements of the law or plain indifference to employee safety and health.
"This employer is well aware of the hazards and safeguards associated with silo entry yet chose to send untrained and improperly equipped employees into a dangerous work situation," said Christopher Adams, OSHA's area director in Syracuse.
"This worker's death shows the irreparable consequences and severe human cost that can result from an employer's failure to use common-sense and legally required safeguards."
OSHA also cited the company for 17 serious violations for a variety of additional safety and health hazards.
These included allowing an employee to "walk down" the grain; the lack of rescue equipment and training; employees overexposed to grain dust and the lack of controls to reduce the exposure level; respiratory and hazard communication deficiencies; and fall hazards from unguarded ladder, floor and wall openings.
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.
"Storage silo entry is very dangerous.
"It only takes a few seconds for a worker to sink into and be buried by stored feed or grain," said Robert Kulick, OSHA's regional director in New York.
"In 2010, at least 26 American workers died under such conditions.
"Deaths like these can be prevented only if employers follow all required precautions before letting their workers enter a silo."
Proposed penalties total $155,200.
Harbor Point Mineral Products has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and proposed penalties to comply, meet with OSHA or contest the findings to the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
OSHA has placed Harbor Point in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which mandates targeted follow-up inspections to ensure compliance with the law.
Initiated in June 2010, the program focuses on recalcitrant employers that endanger workers by committing willful, repeat or failure-to-abate violations.