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Fatal Explosion Highlights Dangers at Grain Elevators

A powerful explosion which destroyed a grain elevator at the Bartlett Grain Company in northeast Kansas also claimed six lives. The accident, which occurred on the evening of October 29, killed four Bartlett employees, Chad Roberts, 20, Ryan Federinko, 21, Curtis Field, 21, John Burke, 24, as well as two private grain inspectors, Travis Keil, 34 and Darrek Klahr. Also as a result of the explosion, two others received serious injuries which required their admittance to the University of Kansas Hospital’s burn unit. As officials prepare to investigate the exact cause of the explosion, a long history of injuries and fatalities for workers at grain elevators point to the danger seemingly inherent in the industry.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), in the past forty years over 600 explosions have occurred at grain elevators in the United States. These explosions have killed over 250 people and injured more than 1,000. In 2010 alone, multiple grain explosions and/or fires occurred around the nation, including two in Illinois which is a leading state for commercial grain-handling. The primary cause of these incidents is grain dust. Grain dust, which is produced in massive quantities in these operations, is extremely combustible and easily ignited by even a small electrical spark or a cigarette.

Given the still high number of accidents in grain elevator operations, it may be surprising to learn that safety has actually improved considerably over decades past. For many years, grain elevator explosions were far more common. But after a series of explosions in grain elevators in Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas killed fifty people in December 1977, the government and the industry worked together to create safety regulations which were far more strict. A review by OSHA determined that since these improvements, there has been a 70% reduction in grain explosion fatalities. Also improved are suffocations. Though suffocation is still the leading cause of death in grain facilities, this number has dropped by 44%.

Still, far too many fatalities and injuries at grain elevators continue to occur. In the recent explosion, the Bartlett facility had not been inspected in over five years. OSHA representatives state that a likely reason the elevator had not been inspected in this time is that the large number of grain elevators operating outpaces the administration’s ability to provide regular inspections. Also, the Bartlett facility would have been considered “safer” than older facilities as it has been built after a series of new safety regulations became mandatory. While an investigation will likely eventually reveal the explosion’s cause, this comes too late for the workers killed and their families. It will hopefully serve, however, to remind other grain elevator workers to be mindful of their safety and to report immediately any concerns or safety regulation violations at their own facilities. Workers who have been injured by such workplace accidents can also contact a Chicago workers compensation attorney who can assist them.

About the Author: Brooke Haley marketing associate at Millon & Peskin, Chicago workers compensation attorney that practice in the areas of Civil Litigation, Workers’ Compensation, and Personal Injury. Millon & Peskin is a General Civil Litigation Practice with the goal of representing the interests of injured workers, throughout all applicable Courts within the State of Illinois. For more information, please visit http://www.millonpeskin.com.

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