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Bartlett Grain Co. North Carolina flour mill explosion underlines grain dust dangers

30 April 2013

Bartlett Milling Co.’s Statesville, North Carolina, facility was hit by an explosion on April 7, seriously injuring a worker. The explosion occurred while two maintenance workers were in the basement of the building repairing a piece of equipment.

One of the men turned the power on, which apparently initiated an explosion resulting in the collapse of several exterior brick walls and damage to equipment. The incident occurred in a building that houses the early stages of the milling process. The exact cause of the fire remains under investigation, however investigators suspect that combustible dust may have been the fuel that was ignited.

The company has been cited in the past by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for health and safety violations related to the build up of combustible grain dust.

An October 2011 grain elevator explosion at Bartlett’s plant in Atchison, Kansas., killed six workers and left two hospitalised. Following that incident, OSHA cited Bartlett Grain with five willful violations and eight serious violations of workplace safety rules and proposed $406,000 in fines.

Some of the willful violations related to the accumulation of grain dust – which is nine times as explosive as coal dust – in the facility.

"The deaths of these six workers could have been prevented had the grain elevator's operators addressed hazards that are well known in this industry," said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis at the time. "Bartlett Grain's disregard for the law led to a catastrophic accident and heartbreaking tragedy for the workers who were injured or killed, their families and the agricultural community."

And a repeat OSHA inspection six months ago at a Bartlett Milling facility in Kansas found violations of OSHA’s safety standards including dust build-ups.

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