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      OSHA cites Utica company where worker died in silo accident

      Harbor Point Mineral Producers, deadly accident, May 11, 2011 / File photo

      A Utica company where a worker died in May is being cited for safety violations.

      The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited Harbor Point Mineral Producers for 21 violations of workplace safety standards. It comes in light of the May 11 death of a worker who was fatally engulfed by cotton seed stored in a silo.

      The company, a processor of animal feed, is located at 71 Wurz Avenue. 24-year-old Craig Bernier, of Mohawk, fell while working inside the silo. Rescue crews cut holes into the side of the silo to try and rescue Bernier, but he later died.

      An OSHA inspection finds employees were not trained on the hazards associated with entering a silo and were not equipped with an approved lifeline. Safety officials also say the atmosphere inside the silo had not been sampled for oxygen deficiency and the energy source of the silo's augur had not been locked out prior to entry.

      "Due to the employer's knowledge of and failure to address these hazards, OSHA issued citations for four willful violations," OSHA officials said in a news release issued to CNYCentral.

      "This employer is well aware of the hazards and safeguards associated with silo entry yet chose to send untrained and improperly equipped employees into a dangerous work situation," said Christopher Adams, OSHA's area director in Syracuse. "This worker's death shows the irreparable consequences and severe human cost that can result from an employer's failure to use common-sense and legally required safeguards."

      OSHA also cited the company for 17 serious violations for a variety of additional safety and health hazards. These include allowing an employee to "walk down" the grain; the lack of rescue equipment and training; employees overexposed to grain dust and the lack of controls to reduce the exposure level; respiratory and hazard communication deficiencies; and fall hazards from unguarded ladder, floor and wall openings. A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

      "Storage silo entry is very dangerous. It only takes a few seconds for a worker to sink into and be buried by stored feed or grain," said Robert Kulick, OSHA's regional director in New York. "In 2010, at least 26 American workers died under such conditions. Deaths like these can be prevented only if employers follow all required precautions before letting their workers enter a silo."

      OSHA has proposed penalties totaling $155,200. The company has 15 business days from the receipt of its citations and proposed penalties to comply, meet with OSHA or contest the findings to the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.