Alleged workforce safety violations in Kansas grain elevator

Kansas City residents may recall hearing about the Bartlett Grain elevator that exploded in Atchison, Kansas, in 2011 and killed six workers and seriously injured two others. The Kansas City Star recently outlined the details of this horrific workplace accident.

Kansas grain elevator explosions

Grain elevator explosions are often caused by grain dust accumulation. Grain dust is highly explosive and can be ignited by many types of machinery found in elevators, such as conveyor belts and overheated motors, or any type of spark. As a result, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration strengthened its regulations on grain elevators by reducing the amount of grain dust that can be accumulated in elevators as well as eliminating ignition points that can cause electrical sparks. Grain elevator fatalities dropped dramatically after these regulations were enforced.

Although the explosion at Bartlett Grain's Atchison grain elevator continues to be investigated, a fire marshal speculated that sparks from a nearby rail car caused the blast that blew holes in the steel and concrete silos, causing the ignition of the 500,000 bushels of grain that was inside.

The October 29, 2011, incident at Bartlett Grain's Atchison grain elevator seems to be similar to another incident that took place in Kansas. The similar incident happened in 1998 at a Wichita elevator owned by DeBruce Grain, and it killed seven workers. The two incidents are similar in that OSHA asked for criminal charges to be brought against the owner.

In the 1998 case, OSHA asked for criminal charges alleging DeBruce willfully and knowingly disregarded safety rules that, if not disregarded, could have prevented the seven deaths.

In addition, OSHA cited DeBruce for 32 workplace safety violations, 25 of which were willful violations, and proposed $1.7 million in fines. According to OSHA, willful violations mean that the violations were made with voluntary disregard for the law's safety requirements.

In the investigation of the 2011 incident, OSHA found eight safety violations, five of them classified as "serious," and charged the company with $406,000 in fines. These violations speak to the egregious nature of the conditions for the workers, who were placed in danger due to unfit conditions in the grain elevator.

The families of the six victims and the two injured workers may be entitled to workers' compensation benefits as a result of the explosion. The families recently argued in Jackson County Circuit Court that the elevator ignored federal dust regulations and failed to perform regular maintenance as a way to boost profits. Although not all workplace accidents are this serious, when an employee is injured or killed during the course of employment, there are some essential steps to take to help obtain compensation.

Important steps to take in the workers' compensation process

When dealing with a workplace accident or injury, it's important to report the incident to the employer. Next, the injured employee should make sure to contact an authorized medical provider and seek treatment for the injuries. It's especially important to follow all of the medical advice given by the professional.

In the workers' compensation process, the injured worker may receive weekly payments while on restricted duty or off of work completely. Whether the employee has restricted duty is generally based on the severity of the injury. Finally, the injured worker should make sure to properly file claims for compensation. Because these steps can be complex and the nature of the accident usually requires time for recovery, an experienced workers' compensation attorney can help guide the injured worker through the process.

Workplace safety is not anything to take lightly, as failure to follow safety regulations can have dire consequences. Someone who has been injured due to lax workplace safety enforcement could benefit from consulting with a skilled workers' compensation attorney.