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Reports show slashing OSHA fines in grain bin accident deaths

As North Carolina residents may know, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration may launch an investigation into a workplace accident and fine an employer for creating an unsafe working environment for its employees. When workers suffer injuries on the job, they may become eligible to receive workers compensation from their employer.

However, recent reports analyzing government data demonstrate that OSHA could tighten its regulations relating to fatal grain incidents. Government data shows that in the 179 grain entrapment deaths since 1985, OSHA initially levied fines totaling $9 million but later slashed them by nearly 60 percent. In fact, statistics show that the biggest fines in grain death cases were cut between 50 percent and 97 percent.

Farming companies where entrapment accidents have taken place have admitted to failing to provide safety harnesses and training to teens it instructs to walk down in the grain. Companies also admitted to using power equipment that produced fatal currents of grain. This may be the reason that teen deaths are common in farming incidents. Eight victims in OSHA regulated farm accidents since 1987 were less than 17-years-old and another 15 were between 18 and 20-years-old. Even though some farms may be exempt from OSHA regulation, there are still some farms that come within its purview.

Government documents show that even though criminal charges may be brought against farming institutions involved in entrapment accidents, this takes place very rarely. OSHA penalties often seem light compared to the seriousness of the offense. An accident that causes a worker's death is considered a misdemeanor under the OSHA statute. These light penalties may discourage prosecutors from pursuing these cases compared to other crimes.

OSHA representatives claim that grain bin accidents have decreased since they have begun regulating the industry, but the number of teen deaths is still appalling and many say that awareness needs to be created about the dangers in the industry and how to avoid them. Filing a workers' compensation claim when a workplace accident takes place may help to hold negligent employers liable and contribute to creating a safer workplace environment for workers.

Source: NPR, "Fines slashed in grain bin entrapment deaths," Howard Berkes and Jim Morris, March 24, 2013

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