Jason Sluder, 43, an employee at Littlejohn Grain Inc. in Westfield, Illinois, found himself trapped for five hours in February 2023 as coworkers and emergency responders worked to remove hundreds of pounds of soybeans to pull him out. Thankfully, he suffered only minor injuries.
An investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of the incident at Littlejohn Grain found the grain operation exposed the employee to engulfment hazards by allowing them to enter the bin without required protective equipment, such as a safety harness or lanyard, while the bin’s screw auger turned. At the time of the incident, workers were “walking down grain” – a well-known hazard that must be avoided – to unclog soybeans stacked as high as 30 feet on the bin’s inside walls.
Littlejohn violated grain-handling safety standards
According to a statement, OSHA determined the company violated federal grain-handling safety standards by allowing employees to enter the bin without protective equipment and by not locking out the auger to prevent movement while workers were inside. The company also failed to train workers on emergency procedures.
“This worker avoided serious and deadly injuries too often suffered by workers who are trapped in a silo where flowing materials can completely engulf someone in a matter of seconds,” explained OSHA area director Edward Marshall in Peoria, Illinois.
“The quick actions of his coworkers and first responders prevented him from suffering a fate that needlessly claimed the lives of too many agricultural workers every year.”
July 2023 incident caused employee to lose foot
OSHA cited the company for two willful, 10 serious and three other-than-serious violations, including failing to provide fall protection to workers on grain platforms, lacking a hazardous communication program, not inspecting fire extinguishers and powered industrial trucks and failing to train workers in their use, and for not making sure required machine guards were in place. OSHA proposed penalties of $272,957.
OSHA also learned that on July 12, 2023 – only months after Littlejohn Grain was warned about the dangers of preventing movement of a bin’s auger – another Littlejohn Grain employee in Westfield became caught in a moving bin auger.
The employee suffered injuries that required a foot amputation. The investigation into that incident is ongoing.
Based in Martinsville, Illinois, Littlejohn Grain Inc. has served grain producers in Clark, Edgar and Cumberland counties since 1923. In addition to its facilities in Westfield and Martinsville, the company operates a grain elevator in West Union. The company is a member of the Grain and Feed Association of Illinois.
In 2018, OSHA established a regional emphasis program for grain handling facilities in Illinois, Ohio and Wisconsin after investigating more than two dozen related fatalities in the prior decade. In addition to its enforcement efforts, the agency has worked closely with the industry to raise awareness of grain-handling hazards. This work includes OSHA partnerships with the Grain Handling Safety Coalition, Grain Elevator and Processing Society (GEAPS) and National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA).
7 steps for grain safety
- Turn off and lockout equipment before entering a bin or performing maintenance.
- Never walk down grain to make it flow.
- Test the air in the bin before entering.
- Use a safety harness and anchored lifeline.
- Place a trained observer outside of the bin in case of an emergency.
- Do not enter a bin where grain is built up on the side.
- Control the accumulation of grain dust through housekeeping.