WASHINGTON — The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Bartlett Grain Co. L.P. for a number of violations in connection with an October 2011 grain elevator explosion in Atchison, Kas. Responding to the allegations, the company said it “adamantly disagrees” with the agency’s findings.
OSHA cited five willful and eight serious violations in the aftermath of its investigation. The explosion killed six workers and injured two others.
“We take extreme exception to the willful characterization,” said Bob Knief, president of Bartlett Grain. “We certainly look forward to proving wrong OSHA’s unfortunate citations and characterization.”
Mr. Knief said Bartlett has cooperated fully with the OSHA inspection and will continue to do so.
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.
In a formal statement, Mr. Knief noted the OSHA citations do not “assert a relationship to the cause of the accident” adding that “the cause cannot be determined.”
Specifically addressing the alleged violations, Mr. Knief offered two examples.
“OSHA asserts that there was a hazardous accumulation of dust prior to the accident, however the evidence is clear and incontrovertible that the grain and dust found by OSHA after the incident was deposited by the accident, and could not have been there prior to the accident,” he said. “OSHA also takes issue with the format of our preventive maintenance records even though that exact format was the result of OSHA guidance directly to the company in the year 2000.”
Mr. Knief characterized Oct. 29, the day of the accident, as “the darkest day in Bartlett Grain’s 105-year history.”
“We always will grieve that we cannot restore these men to their families and friends or their co-workers at Bartlett,” Mr. Knief said. “From that terrible day, we have believed and stated that we were operating responsibly. We believe that the facts have borne this out, and we are frustrated that OSHA has missed or ignored these facts. Again, we will work with OSHA to establish the truth.”
Also cited by OSHA was Kansas Grain Inspection Services Inc., a Topeka, Kas.-based contractor employed by Bartlett. The company was cited for one willful violation, and one serious violation and one other-than-serious violation, for a combined proposed penalty of $67,500.
OSHA defines a willful violation as one “committed with intentional knowing or voluntary disregard for the law’s requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.” A serious violation is one in which “there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which an employer knew or should have known.”
Bartlett and Kansas Grain Inspection Services have 15 days from receipt of the citations and penalties to either comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director in Wichita, Kas., or challenge the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.