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OSHA will investigate elevator accident

An investigation is being conducted into the accident involving a Farmington man who fell into a grain elevator last week, but it is not known whether the Minnesota Occupational Safety and Health Administration will issue any citations.

Any time there is an incident that involves employee safety, OSHA will conduct an investigation to see if there are any violations. The Farmington investigation began Friday, OSHA spokesperson James Honerman said. OSHA officials were in town Tuesday, as well, to take statements as part of the investigation.

In the past five years, 12 people have been crushed or suffocated to death in grain bin accidents. Of those, nine were at family farm bins and were not under OSHA jurisdiction. The remaining three incidents involved businesses and were investigated by OSHA. While the Feely Elevator incident did not lead to a fatality, there are similarities between Thursday's accident and the others that have claimed lives.

"A common factor in those and other near misses is that workers were walking on top of the grain or knocking it off of the side of the bin, and (the grain) either collapsed under their feet or engulfed them," Honerman said.

Because Minnesota OSHA has noticed a sort of trend in serious accidents associated with grain bins, the department has, as part of its five-year strategic plan, placed additional emphasis on inspections of grain handling facilities, he added.

Minnesota OSHA has several safety tips in place for working with grain bins. One of those tips urges use of a body harness and lifeline by the individual entering the bin, having a designated observer on hand and having rescue equipment on hand. When first responders found Malecha buried in corn in the silo, he was not wearing a harness, according to Farmington fire marshal John Powers.

On Tuesday, Honerman said he could not speculate on how long the investigation could take. Elevator employees are cooperating with OSHA officials, he said.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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