A farm in Miller County, Georgia, faces $40,000 in Occupational Safety and Health Administration penalties after an investigation found that the death of a grain silo employee was preventable.
OSHA said it uncovered nine serious procedures, including not training workers on how to enter a grain bin safely, not providing rescue equipment for employees entering a bin, and failing to require augers and other equipment to be de-energized and effectively locked out.
According to several reports, the 59-year-old worker suffocated while attempting to unclog a grain bin at a silo operated by Cedar Head LLC. As the worker stood atop the grain, the pile shifted and quickly engulfed him. The incident happened in April, but OSHA has just now finished its months-long investigation.
OSHA also cited Cedar Head for failing to notify the agency of a work-related death within eight hours of the incident.
The victim has been identified as Pedro Juarez-Perez. A fellow worker at the site said they saw a rope tied to Juarez-Perez disappearing into the grain but could not rescue their colleague.
“Our investigation found Cedar Head failed to follow required federal safety standards that might have saved this worker’s life,” OSHA Acting Area Director Heather Sanders said in a news release. “Our outreach and enforcement efforts continually stress the importance of making sure employees are trained and that proper procedures are followed when working inside grain bins to prevent tragedies like this one.”
According to TV station WALB, spoke with a farmer in the area who didn’t want to be identified; that farmer said the incident was an accident and the worker did have on a safety harness at the time of the incident.
According to OSHA, moving corn or grain acts as quicksand and can bury a worker in seconds. That’s what investigators say happened to Perez.
“There might be a crust on top of that grain. It’s basically like walking on a frozen lake where there’s nothing underneath you,” Sam Cook, Tri-states grain conditioning salesman and educator, told WALB.
Farming is dangerous year-round, but harvest season is particularly hazardous. And some areas have reported worker shortages that increase urgency and stress and make getting from the fields to the grain elevator in time before earlier closings even more difficult.