Agreement struck over two who suffocated in corn

Michael P. Tremoglie Dec. 9, 2011, 12:39pm


MOUNT CARROLL, Ill. (Legal Newsline) - The U.S. Department of Labor announced Tuesday that it reached an agreement with the grain company Haasbach resolving 25 citations issued by the department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The agreement follows the fatal accidents of Wyatt Whitebread, 14, and Alex Pacas, 19, at the company's grain bin facility in July 2010. A 20-year-old worker also was seriously injured in the incident. The agreement also imposes child labor penalties.

"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."

According to the announcement, the workers were "walking down the corn" to make it flow while machinery used to convey the grain was running. They 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.

OSHA's Region V, which includes Illinois, Ohio and Wisconsin, initiated a Grain Safety Local Emphasis Program in August 2010. The program focuses on workplace hazards.

But a separate investigation found that Haasbach violated the Fair Labor Standards Act's child labor provisions by employing workers under age 18 to perform hazardous jobs that are prohibited by the FLSA.

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.

DOL has proposed a regulation that would create a new hazardous occupations order involving the agricultural employment of individuals under age 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.

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