The U.S. Department of Labor has fined a Sun Prairie milling company more than $676,000 for workplace safety violations that led to the death of a grain silo manager last year in Cambria.
According to an investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, it took emergency workers nine hours to recover his body, which was engulfed in grain.
OSHA determined that Rote entered the unsafe bin despite ongoing efforts to clear the clogged silo from the outside and that the external process should have continued for several more days before anyone was allowed to enter the silo.
The agency issued four willful and 10 serious safety citations and proposed $676,808 in penalties.
OSHA found that Didion allowed workers to walk on moving grain, enter bins with buildup of grain on the sides, enter bins while equipment is running and enter bins without an outside observer, all willful violations.
“Didion Milling’s failure to learn from recent incidents and follow industry standards and their own company policies cost this worker’s life,” acting OSHA Regional Administrator William Donovan said in a prepared statement. “Six of every 10 workers trapped in a grain bin don’t make it out alive. This is a frightening and tragic reality. Safety standards are in place to protect workers from serious and fatal injuries.”
The company has 15 business days to contest the findings or pay the fines.
In a written statement, company spokesperson Ron Irwin said Didion respects OSHA’s work but disagrees with the findings.
“OSHA’s regulations establish the base for our safety programs, but our commitment to safety goes well beyond OSHA requirements,” Irwin said. “We will remain steadfastly committed to safety as we move forward.”
OSHA noted that a contractor was seriously injured in March 2020 after falling 30 feet from a catwalk while cleaning a grain bin and that five people were killed and 15 others injured in a May 2017 explosion at the plant that rocked the Columbia County village.
Didion Milling has been in operation since 1972. In addition to the corn milling and biofuels facility in Cambria, it has production facilities in Markesan and Johnson Creek.