Improve grain elevator safety
The Kansas City Star
The grain industry, federal regulators and U.S. justice system have not done enough to protect people from being killed or injured in accidents involving grain elevators.
A special report in Sunday’s Star revealed several points of failures. Cavalier attitudes about safety from grain officials. Lax records of inspections and fines by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Too little effort by federal attorneys to hold grain executives accountable for suffocations or explosions at elevators.
Among the needed actions:
U.S. attorneys’ offices should increase their criminal prosecution of grain industry executives. Hold them accountable for the deaths, injuries and financial ruin they create for families. That should pressure the entire industry to be more responsible.
OSHA officials must boost the number and quality of safety inspections for grain elevators. Just as crucially, OSHA should stop its practice of dramatically reducing fines initially imposed on grain industry officials when their elevators are involved in accidents.
The U.S. grain industry should tighten its own safety standards. That includes better training, better use of safety equipment and a zealous attitude toward protecting workers by strictly following federal rules - even if they are tightened as they should be.
One of the accidents highlighted in The Star killed six people in 2011 in Atchison, Kan. In that case, owner Bartlett Grain recently released a statement saying it had run a “model facility” in Atchison. Who says? OSHA had never inspected the elevator, even though it had been open for 30 years. Bartlett Grain also criticized OSHA’s proposed citations after the deadly 2011 accident, yet has not released its own version of why it occurred.
Based on what has happened in most similar cases, Bartlett Grain likely expects the OSHA fines will be reduced or even tossed out. As for criminal charges, the company will fight that, too. Sadly, it can point to dozens of other cases where the federal government did not pursue charges against the grain industry. If warranted this time, however, U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom in Kansas should not hesitate to pursue such charges against Bartlett Grain.