Today's post comes from guest author Kit Case, from Causey Law Firm.
The Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) issued a press release on June 4th stating that it has cited Wilcox Farms Feedmill, Inc., of Roy for safety violations related to a fatal silo collapse last December. One worker died after he was engulfed in more than 400 tons of corn that spilled out of the silo.
Wilcox Farms issued a press release on February 12, 2014 describing the incident, the emergency response to it and how competitor farms came to the business's rescue to provide feed for the chickens in the days after the accident.
“As an employer, especially a family business, it’s the worst thing you could ever imagine happening,” said Andy Wilcox. “The fact that we weren’t able to find Steve for two days was really tough.”
Wilcox has been cited for one “willful” and two “serious” safety violations with total penalties of $67,200. The state investigation found shortcomings in how the company maintained and managed the silo, and inadequate employee training.
A serious violation exists in a workplace if there is a substantial probability that worker death or serious physical harm could result from a hazardous condition. A willful violation can be issued when L&I has evidence of plain indifference, a substitution of judgment or an intentional disregard to a hazard or rule.
The day the 60-foot tall silo collapsed, two employees were working on feedmill operations, which included discharging corn using an auger in the silo. The unloading auger was not working that day, so they opened a side discharge door to allow corn to flow onto the outer portion of the auger. During that process, the silo collapsed and 400-500 tons of corn spilled out, engulfing one worker who was unable to escape.
“Worker fatalities are tragic and preventable,” said Anne Soiza, assistant director of L&I’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health. “Our state requires all employers to provide safe and healthy workplaces. We fully expect Wilcox will correct the hazards and practices that haven’t been fixed already to ensure their employees are as safe as can be.”
Wilcox Farms has 15 working days to appeal the citation.
As part of the investigation, L&I hired an engineer to assess the structural integrity of the silo.
The investigation found four instances where Wilcox was not following proper silo operation and maintenance procedures that may have contributed to the collapse. For example, if corn is added or discharged improperly or the silo is overfilled, tons of grain could build up at an uneven rate and then suddenly shift and create instability. The four instances were:
- A side discharge system was used to unload corn instead of the manufacturer’s standard procedure of withdrawing grain from the vertical center via the auger. The side discharge system was not installed, designed or supplied by an authorized dealer or contractor.
- The silo was overfilled all the way to the roof and past the maximum fill level of one inch from the top of the vertical walls.
- The silo had been previously repaired with a patch over a rupture of the wall due to corrosion. The repair was not made with corrugated material and was not done in a way to ensure structural stability. Also, it wasn’t assessed by a structural engineer or the silo manufacturer.
- There were previous occasions during which the company had simultaneously filled the silo while it was being discharged.
L&I concluded that this was a willful violation with a proposed penalty of $56,000.
The investigation also found two serious violations with proposed penalties of $5,600 each:
- Employees weren’t trained in specific procedures and safety practices for silo operations and maintenance.
- The employer did not maintain the silos in accordance with the manufacturer’s maintenance and safety procedures.
Wilcox Farms has 15 working days to appeal the citation. For a copy of the citation, please contact L&I Public Affairs at 360-902-5673.
Penalty money paid as a result of a citation is placed in the workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund, helping workers and families of those who have died on the job.