Department of Labor settles litigation against grain bin operator in July 2010 deaths of 2 teens in Mount Carroll
Online Staff Report
CHICAGO — The U.S. Department of Labor has reached an agreement with Haasbach LLC in Mount Carroll, resolving 25 citations issued by the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and child labor civil money penalties assessed by its Wage and Hour Division.
The resolution follows the deaths of Wyatt Whitebread, 14, and Alex Pacas, 19, at the company’s Mt. Carroll grain bin facility in July 2010. A 20-year-old worker also was seriously injured in the incident.
“This tragedy has had a profound effect on the community of Mt. Carroll and the grain industry nationwide,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Dr. David Michaels. “We hope that the deaths of these two young men send a profound and unmistakable message throughout the grain industry that loss of life can and must be prevented.”
At the time of the incident, the workers were “walking down the corn” to make it flow while machinery used to convey the grain was running. All three became trapped in corn more than 30 feet deep, and Whitebread and Pacas suffocated.
OSHA cited Haasbach for 12 willful, 12 serious and one other-than-serious violation of the agency’s grain standards.
Following the agreement reached in this case, which was approved by an administrative law judge of the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, the company must pay $200,000 in penalties, an amount amended from the original fines assessed. Haasbach is no longer in business.
Since 2009, OSHA has fined grain operators in Illinois, Colorado, South Dakota and Wisconsin following similar preventable fatalities and injuries. In addition to enforcement actions, Michaels sent a notification letter to grain elevator operators warning them not to allow workers to enter grain storage facilities without proper equipment, precautions and training.
“OSHA will not tolerate noncompliance with the Grain Handling Facilities standard,” said Michaels in the letter. “We will continue to use our enforcement authority to the fullest extent possible.”
OSHA’s Region V, which includes Illinois, Ohio and Wisconsin, initiated a Grain Safety Local Emphasis Program in August 2010. This program focuses on hazards associated with grain engulfment, machine guarding, lockout/tagout of dangerous equipment to prevent accidental start up, electricity, falls, employee training and combustible dust hazards.
A separate investigation by the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division found that Haasbach violated the Fair Labor Standards Act’s child labor provisions by employing workers younger than 18 to perform hazardous jobs that are prohibited by the FLSA. Under the agreement, Haasbach will pay $68,125, the full civil money penalty originally assessed as a result of those violations.
“It is against the law to put the health and well-being of minors at risk by requiring them to perform prohibited hazardous jobs,” said Nancy Leppink, deputy administrator of the Wage and Hour Division. “It is the employer’s responsibility to know and adhere to child labor laws and regulations. If violators decide not to follow the law, they should know that the Wage and Hour Division will not hesitate to use all available tools, including litigation, to pursue those who put young workers in harm’s way.”
Under the FLSA’s child labor provisions, the secretary of labor has declared certain jobs too hazardous for anyone younger than 18 to perform and other jobs too dangerous for anyone younger than 16. For example, employing and requiring anyone younger than 16 to work in occupations involving warehousing or transportation, including in a grain bin operation, is a violation. Similarly, employing a worker younger than 18 to climb on top of a high grain bin violates a hazardous order, as does having a minor work in a hazardous occupation involving the operation of a power-driven hoisting device. These rules must be followed unless a specific exemption applies. More information about child labor rules can be found at http://www.dol.gov/elaws/youth.html, and information about hazardous occupations orders is available at http://www.dol.gov/elaws/esa/flsa/docs/haznonag.asp.
The Labor Department has proposed a regulation that would, among other changes, create a new hazardous occupations order involving the nonagricultural employment of individuals younger than 18. The regulation would prohibit them from being employed in the storing, marketing and transporting of farm-product raw materials. Prohibited places of employment would include country grain elevators, grain bins, silos, feed lots, stockyards, livestock exchanges and livestock auctions. For more about the proposed rule, visit http://www.dol.gov/whd/CL/AG_NPRM.htm.
To ask questions, obtain compliance assistance, file a complaint, or report workplace hospitalizations, fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to workers, the public should call OSHA’s toll-free hotline at 800-321-OSHA (6742) or its North Aurora Office at (630) 896-8700.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more details, visit http://www.osha.gov.