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Feely Elevator cited following corn silo rescue

The Minnesota Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Feely Elevator for seven violations following the Feb. 4, 2010 accident which led to manager Mark Malecha being partially buried by corn.

The citations include $7,750 in fines. Feely Elevator is contesting the citations. All are listed under OSHA's "serious" category.

The accident occurred when Malecha entered a grain elevator to try to dislodge a clog. The corn below Malecha shifted, causing him to become covered to his chest. He was trapped for eight hours, but successfully rescued.

OSHA's investigation began the next day. On April 9, OSHA issued the seven violations. Within four days, Feely Elevator representatives filed paperwork to contest the citations.

Because the elevator company contested OSHA's findings, the case is still considered open, according to OSHA communications director James Honerman.

One of the violations, the only "general requirement" violation against the elevator, requires that damaged or defective equipment not be used. The other six citations fall under the U.S. Department of Labor's OSHA standards for grain handling facilities.

One citation issued requires a permit for entering bins. The permit should certify that precautions have been implemented prior to entering the bin. The next requires that all mechanical, electrical or hydraulic equipment that would present danger to an individual in the storage unit be disconnected or prevented from operating.

Additional citations issued include one that prohibits "walking down grain," where an employee walks on grain to make the flow within or out from the grain storage structure; another requires an employee entering a grain structure to be wearing a harness or other type of lifeline to prevent the employee from sinking further than waist deep in the grain. Citations for not having a trained observer to provide assistance stationed outside the bin and not having equipment for rescue operations specifically suited to the bin, silo or tank being entered were also filed.

According to OSHA's definitions, "a violation is classified as serious where death or serious physical harm has resulted or would reasonably be expected to result from an employee's exposure to a violation of a standard."

Feely Elevator owner Doug Gilbertson didn't want to comment much on the elevator's position, but said Feely's chose to contest a couple of the Minnesota OSHA citations. While he admits Malecha was not wearing a harness when he entered the bin, Gilbertson maintains the elevator did have the equipment for rescue operations available.

Generally, each serious violation carries a penalty of $1,500 to $5,000. However, the fines posed to Feely Elevators included two at $750 each. The remaining five citations were each assessed a value of $1,250. Honerman said things like a company's history, the size, probability of such an event occurring again and any "good faith" actions often play in to the amount of each fine.

According to Honerman, the next step will be an informal conference between Minnesota OSHA and Feely Elevator representatives to discuss the reasons for the contestation. Because the case is still considered open, Honerman could not speak to the specifics of the citations. The report and each citation definition is filed on the U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration web site.

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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