OSHA proposes $21,500 penalty to firm where two 17 year olds lost legs

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued citations last week to Zaloudek Grain Co. in Kremlin, Oklahoma for safety violations identified in its investigation of the August 4, 2011 incident in which two young workers each lost a leg. The citations listed six serious violations and a proposed penalty of $21,500. Two of the violations were assessed the OSHA maximum $7,000 penalty amount, one for inadequate guarding around the auger (1910.212(a)(2)) and the other for failing to train the young men (1910.272(e)(2)). The other safety regulations violated by the employer included rules related to adequate exit routes and a safe means of egress (1910.36(e)(2), 1910.37(a)(3), and 1910.37(b)(2)). The citation noted that one exit was blocked with wheat.

One would think that a company specializing in grain handling would follow fundamental safety practices regarding augers, exits and training, but this is the same company that also failed to maintain workers’ compensation insurance. The penalty for that State violation was a mere $750, and the employer continues to challenge its responsibility for the young men’s medical expenses.

Tyler Zander, 17 and Bryce Gannon, 17 were working together on Thursday, August 4 at the Zaloudek’s grain handling facility when Bryce Gannon’s legs became trapped in the auger. Tyler Zander went to co-worker’s aid and his own legs were pulled into the heavy machinery. The young men were eventually freed from the equipment, but each lost a leg and endured numerous surgeries. Gannon returned home six weeks after the incident, while Zander required at 10-week hospital stay.

A $21,500 penalty seems like a bargain given the severity of the violations and the harm this employer caused. One reason it’s a bargain is the maximum penalty for an OSHA violation hasn’t been updated for more than 20 years. (The amounts are authorized by Congress, and last update was part of the federal deficit-reduction plan in the Omnibus Budget Reconcilation Act of 1990.) If the penalty proposed to Zaloudek Grain was simply adjusted for inflation, the amount would be about $35,000.

Zaloudek Grain has 15 working days to notify OSHA if it plan to contest the citations or $21,500 penalty.

In a separate inspection, OSHA officials visited the Zaloudek Grain in Kremlin, OK in September 2011 under the agency’s special emphasis program for grain handling facilities. Citations for that inspection were issued in December 2011 with a proposed penalty of $12,000 for six violations of OSHA standards. Zaloudek Grain contested those citations and penalty, which is likely what will happen with the notice of violations they received last week from OSHA.