The company that owns a south Wichita grain elevator where two people died Tuesday has faced 24 cases of safety and health violations by federal regulators over the past seven years, including one incident in Ohio where a man was crushed by a grain auger.
That’s according to an Eagle review of records from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Gavilon owns and operates the elevator near 55th South and Hoover Road where two men were killed Tuesday after being trapped under 20 to 25 feet of grain in a bin.
On Wednesday, a company official would neither detail the events that led to the deaths nor confirm if they were wearing safety equipment inside the grain bin.
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“We are still in the midst of the investigation to determine what occurred and it is too early to draw any conclusions at this point,” Patrick Burke, Gavilon Group marketing and communications manager, said in e-mail to The Eagle on Wednesday. “Gavilon is cooperating fully with OSHA representatives to learn what caused this unfortunate accident.”
Burke added that the company “maintains extensive safety policies for all of its employees and individuals working on site. This includes specific detailed policies and training to protect employees who must enter a grain bin for whatever reason.”
OSHA requires that any person working inside a grain bin wear a safety harness attached to a lifeline. It also requires a second worker, called a “spotter,” to be in the bin to monitor the safety of the first worker.
Gavilon is a privately held grain and fertilizer company with 136 grain facilities.
While Gavilon may have thorough safety policies in place, it has had two dozen OSHA enforcement cases against it connected with safety and health violations at facilities in 13 states.
Those include enforcement actions at Gavilon’s south Hoover elevator. In November 2012, OSHA said Gavilon violated general requirements for the facility’s machinery and filed a proposed enforcement action and $5,000 fine. In the same case, OSHA said the company violated requirements for guarding floors, wall openings and holes and proposed $8,500 in fines. Detailed explanations of each violation was not available. According to OSHA records, Gavilon reached a formal settlement with the agency and paid $9,000, $4,500 less than the agency initially proposed.
Last year, the company was cited in connection with safety violations in two separate instances at Gavilon Grain facilities. Those instances occurred at Gavilon facilities in Fremont and Kearney, Neb., with proposed fines totaling $61,383. OSHA records show Gavilon settled for $5,432 of the $10,864 in fines it proposed in the Kearney case. Gavilon is contesting OSHA’s $50,519 fine in the Fremont case, according to OSHA records.
Arguably its most serious enforcement action came following the September 2010 death of a 20-year-old worker who was caught and crushed in a discharge auger while cleaning out a grain bin at a Gavilon facility in Ohio. The accident investigation led to subsequent inspections of the company’s two other Ohio facilities, which also uncovered numerous alleged violations.
Between the death and alleged violations in the three Ohio facilities, OSHA proposed fines totaling $465,500, OSHA records said. Through formal and informal settlements and administrative law judgments, Gavilon paid $309,975, according to OSHA records.