Federal investigation finds worker died after Georgia grain silo operator violated safety standards

A sign stands outside the Department of Labor's headquarters in Washington, May 6, 2020. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

The death of a worker who suffocated in a Georgia grain silo could have been prevented had their employer not violated safety regulations, federal officials say.

That finding results from a U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigation into the April death of a 59-year-old worker in Colquitt, Georgia, about 210 miles (337 kilometers) southwest of Atlanta.

The worker suffocated while attempting to unclog a grain bin at a silo operated by Cedar Head LLC. As the worker stood atop the grain, the pile shifted and quickly engulfed them, a monthslong OSHA investigation found. One other employee saw a rope tied to the worker disappearing into the grain but could not rescue their engulfed colleague.

A Cedar Head spokesperson could not be reached through a number listed online for the company.

The OSHA probe uncovered nine workplace violations, the agency said. Cedar Head faces more than $41,000 in fines.

“Our investigation found Cedar Head failed to follow required federal safety standards that might have saved this worker’s life,” said OSHA Acting Area Director Heather Sanders in a news release. “Our outreach and enforcement efforts continually stress the importance of making sure employees are trained and that proper procedures are followed when working inside grain bins to prevent tragedies like this one.”

The safety violations listed by regulators include not training workers on how to enter a grain bin safely and not providing rescue equipment for employees entering a bin.

The Georgia accident occurred just shy of one year after a South African teenage farm worker suffocated after falling into a grain storage bin at a Mississippi soybean farm. That worker would still be alive had his employer, Bare Bones Farms, followed federal workplace safety standards, inspectors with OSHA said.