A lack of preventative maintenance on the explosion suppression system of a bucket elevator was a major factor in an April 21, 2023, explosion at Archer-Daniels-Midland Company’s West Plant that resulted in the hospitalization of three employees with burns and other injuries and extensive damage to the grain elevator, federal investigators found.
Investigators with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration responding to the combustible corn germ dust explosion determined that the explosion suppression system on the indoor bucket elevator leg was non-functional and in a state of disrepair. Investigators found the Decatur grain processing facility had not conducted inspections and testing of the explosion suppression systems since late 2016.
OSHA cited ADM for two willful, one serious and one other-than-serious health and safety violations and proposed $324,796 in penalties related to this explosion at the West Plant.
“ADM knows the important role maintenance and testing plays in protecting the lives and health of their workers and their property from two previous explosions and yet failed to follow common industry practices and Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards to maintain these protective systems,” said OSHA Area director Edward Marshall in Peoria, Illinois. “Agriculture dust can explode in mere seconds when an ignition source is readily available. Dispersion of the dust particles can lead to rapid combustion known as deflagration. It causes explosions, worker injuries and extensive damage, as we saw in this case.”
In April of 2019, OSHA cited ADM for not inspecting and testing critical safety systems after a Nov. 3, 2018, explosion at its East Campus caused extensive damage. As part of a formal settlement, the company agreed to conduct and document preventative maintenance on safety control equipment and to follow inspection procedures consistent with the manufacturer’s recommendations.
On Jan. 4, 2019, an explosion and deflagration propagation event caused equipment and structural damage in the East Wet Milling Corn Plant and outdoor truck unloading bucket elevator legs. A detailed Hazard Alert Letter was issued to the company outlining concerns with the performance and documentation of equipment maintenance of explosion suppression and other systems.
Employers are required to take necessary steps to eliminate grain explosion hazards by using proper dust collection systems and filters, good housekeeping, eliminating potential ignition sources and conducting testing and maintenance of safety systems designed to prevent these tragic incidents.
OSHA currently has an open inspection at ADM’s East Plant after another explosion and fire injured eight workers on Sept. 10, 2023.
Additionally, OSHA issued citations to the company on Sept. 29, 2023, following its investigation of the April 11, 2023, death of a locomotive cab operator in a collision at ADM’s East Soy Plant. The agency cited a violation of the general duty clause after determining ADM had not ensured that crews positioned rail cars with sufficient clearance to prevent a collision. OSHA proposed $15,625 in penalties.
The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
For more information, visit www.osha.gov.