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Kansas grain company cited for serious violations by OSHA

16 April 2012

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is seeking $406,000 in penalties and is citing five willful and eight serious safety violations at Bartlett Grain Co., a Missouri-based grain company, following an explosion that killed six workers and injured two more last October at one of its grain elevators at Atchison in Kansas.

The trackside explosion at the Atchison elevator killed six and seriously injured another two workers
The trackside explosion at the Atchison elevator killed six and seriously injured another two workers

US Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said in a news release the deaths at the Bartlett Grain elevator in Atchison "could have been prevented" if the operators had addressed hazards known in the industry. 

A contractor also was cited, and both companies have said they will fight the claims. Kansas investigators previously determined the Oct. 29, 2011, grain dust explosion was accidental.

Among the willful violations, OSHA alleges Bartlett Grain allowed grain dust, which is nine times as explosive as coal dust, to accumulate and used compressed air to remove dust without first shutting down ignition sources. 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.

The serious violations, defined as those with a substantial probability of death or serious physical harm, include claims that there was a lack of preventative maintenance and that the housekeeping program was deficient because it didn't prevent grain dust accumulations.

Bob Knief, the president of Bartlett Grain, said in a written statement that the company plans to prove wrong "OSHA's unfortunate citations and characterization." He said the company disagrees with claims that there was a hazardous accumulation of dust before the accident and contends the grain and dust found by OSHA was deposited by the accident.

"The safety of our employees always has been and continues to be our highest priority," Knief said. "The accident ... was 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. From that terrible day, we have believed and stated that we were operating responsibly."

Bartlett Grain has confirmed it will build a new grain elevator in Atchison to replace the one destroyed in the explosion.  

Concrete for the new elevator was poured April 6 and workers expect to complete the project by Sept. 15. It will be able to hold 1 million bushels of grain, a 20 percent increase over the old facility. The company said new technology will significantly improve unloading speeds.

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