United Ethanol is facing a fine of $140,000 for knowingly exposing an employee to a hazard that led to his death when a flow of corn buried him inside a grain bin at its Milton, WI, facility last April, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said in a report.

An investigation following the death of Jerod Guell led to OSHA citing United Ethanol for 15 health and safety violations, including one that was willful and 12 others that were serious, the report said.

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Guell, 27, died April 19 after he entered the grain bin to unclog a floor chute and the corn began flowing, the report said. The grain bin held 140,000 bushels of corn.

United Ethanol failed to lock out conveyors used to empty grain bins, which exposed Guell to the hazard, the report said. OSHA called it a willful violation of its grain-handling regulations.

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It defined a willful violation as one committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for — or plain indifference to — employee safety and health.

“This was a terrible, preventable tragedy that underscores the importance of safety compliance,” said Kim Stille, OSHA’s area director in Madison, WI.

OSHA proposed fining United Ethanol $140,000 and placed it in a program that mandates targeted follow-up inspections to ensure compliance, the report said.

United Ethanol declined to comment.

United Ethanol received five serious violations of OSHA’s grain handling regulations. They included failing to: Guard the floor chute openings; prevent exposure to moving grain hazards; prevent workers from entering bins when engulfment hazards exist, have an observer oversee entry procedures, and certifying all entry requirements had been implemented.

The company also faces seven serious violations of OSHA’s Process Safety Management standards. Those included failing to: Develop emergency shutdown procedures for the ethanol distillation process; perform inspections and tests on control systems; perform storage of incompatible chemicals in close proximity, annually certify that operating procedures for the distillation process were current and accurate.

A serious violation occurs “when there is substantial probability that death or serious harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.”

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