Bartlett employees named in wrongful-death lawsuits

by Eric Schroeder
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ATCHISON, KAS. — The families of four of the six workers who were killed in an Oct. 29, 2011, grain elevator explosion in Atchison have filed wrongful-death suits against certain employees of Bartlett Grain Co. L.P. The suits were filed Aug. 27 in Jackson County Circuit Court and listed several Bartlett employees as defendants, including Bob Knief, a senior vice-president of Bartlett at the time of the explosion. Mr. Knief is now president of Bartlett.

The lawsuits were filed on behalf of Chad Roberts, Ryan Federinko, Curtis Field and John Burke. Two other workers — grain inspectors Travis Keil and Darrek Klahr — were not named in the lawsuits.

The lawsuits are similar in nature to the charges put forth by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in April. At that time, OSHA cited five willful and eight serious violations in the aftermath of its investigation.

Elaborating on the citations, OSHA said willful violations at the elevator included allowing grain dust to accumulate, using compressed air to remove dust without first shutting down ignition sources, repeatedly starting and stopping inside bucket elevators to free legs choked by grain, using electrical equipment inappropriate for the working environment and failing to require employees to use fall protection when working from heights.

The serious violations alleged by OSHA include “lack of proper preventive maintenance, certification and lubrication of grain handling equipment, inadequate emergency action plan training for employees and contractors, a lack of employee contractor training on job hazards and a housekeeping program that was deficient because it did not prevent grain dust accumulations.”

The citations carry $406,000 in proposed fines.

Commenting on the lawsuits filed this week, Bartlett issued the same statement it sent out in April criticizing the OSHA citations, but added a paragraph indicating it still believes its employees acted reasonably prior to the explosion.

“After considerable, on-going investigation and examination, we continue to believe that Bartlett employees acted reasonably and appropriately at all times,” the company said. “While we are just seeing the suit and its allegations, it appears to be based on nothing more or less than the OSHA citations, with which we take total exception and which we therefore, certainly have appealed.”

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