Buried in Grain

Number 26087
Subject Worker Safety
Source National Public Radio
State
Year 2013
Publication Date March 26-27, 2013
Summary NPR Correspondent Howard Berkes and Center for Public Integrity Senior Reporter Jim Morris spent seven months investigating dozens of horrific and preventable deaths in America’s grain storage bins. They immediately discovered that the government’s own data for grain entrapment incidents was inaccurate and incomplete, and a database kept by Purdue University and used by OSHA and industry was also incomplete. That prompted weeks of painstaking scrutiny of multiple government datasets, which resulted in a more complete list of incidents and discernible and disturbing patterns in enforcement. The NPR/CPI analysis showed that grain bin “drownings” occurred repeatedly and increasingly during a 20-year period in which both OSHA and the industry had promised more focused attention to safety. The analysis also showed that the same safety standards were violated over and over again, year after year, in incidents that left workers dead, including incidents involving underage, illegally employed workers. Workers were repeatedly sent into bins in violation of the law, and without proper training or safety equipment. But NPR/CPI found that OSHA’s fines were cut an average of 60 per cent in 60 per cent of the incidents. In the very worst cases, which involved willful and egregious employer behavior, OSHA cut fines from 50 to 97 percent. NPR/CPI also found that criminal referrals and prosecutions are rare, even when employers are cited for egregious and willful behavior. “Buried in Grain” chronicles a failed regulatory system even as grain harvests and storage, and worker entrapments and deaths, reached record levels. The series highlighted one particular incident in 2010 in Illinois in which a 14-year-old and 19-year-old died, and their best friend watched them die. “Buried in Grain” prompted calls for reform from members of Congress, support for legislation that would make willful behavior in worker deaths a felony, an internal agency effort to look more closely at fine reductions and a second look at possible federal criminal charges in the Illinois case.
Category Contest Entry
Pages
Keywords worker safety; osha; grain
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