OSHA investigating fatal Middletown silo accident

Two recent deaths because of engulfments in silos — one of them on an unregulated family-owned farm — has the Occupational Safety and Health Administration reinforcing safety practices.

Tim Taylor, of New Carlisle, died Tuesday night after he became buried in more than 8,000 pounds of fly ash, a substance used to make cement, inside a silo at Central Ready Mix, 4714 Oxford State Road.

Taylor, 39, who had worked at the company for 15 years, died from asphyxia and his death was ruled accidental, according to the Butler County Coroner’s Office.

Charles Groh, of Fairfield, was killed Monday in a similar incident on a Fairfield farm.

Groh, 72, also died from asphyxia and his death was accidental, according to the autopsy from the coroner’s office. OSHA has no jurisdiction to further investigate the incident because it occurred on a farm with less than 10 employees, according to Bill Wilkerson, area director of OSHA’s Cincinnati office.

In only takes seconds for silos filled with grains or other materials to become death traps when the contents cascade in a rush, asphyxiating or crushing the victims.

Because the product is being removed from the bottom, Wilkerson said “bridging” can occur, where false surfaces are created and workers can be pulled downward.

When that happens, he said, it’s like being caught in quicksand.

“They can be very dangerous,” he said.

Serious injuries and fatalities on farms have fallen, but the number of workers dying by entrapment in silos has remained stubbornly steady, reaching a record high in 2010, according to a Purdue University report.

“OSHA is working hard to change the ‘it won’t happen to me’ mindset,” said Nick Walters, OSHA Regional Administrator for six Midwestern states. “Grain handling injuries and deaths can be prevented if employers follow proper safety procedures.”

OSHA has worked with the Ohio State University to develop a grain safety training session as part of the 2012 OSU/OSHA Safety Day on Grain Safety and plans to do a presentation for the Grain Elevator and Processing Society later this year.

Recommended precautions are outlined in grain-handling standards issued by OSHA. Every time someone goes into a grain bin, machinery that helps move grain should be turned off. The person should wear a body harness so they can be pulled to safety. An observer should stand outside the bin ready to help if needed.

OSHA was last at the Middletown company in 2000 for an accident when it was called Moraine Materials, according to Wilkerson. The business was sold and changed names in 2011, he said.

On Tuesday night, representatives from the Butler County Technical Response Team were called in to assist Middletown firefighters in the rescue of Taylor. Randy Hanifen, manager of the group, said rescuing someone trapped inside a solo is difficult because with every move, there is a potential for them to fall further down.

Once it became apparent Taylor was dead, Hanifen said the goal was to protect the response team and make sure no one else got injured.

“We go from ‘risk a lot to save a lot’ to trying to recover the body,” he said.

Representatives from Central Ready Mix were unavailable for comment Wednesday, though several messages were left.

Wilkerson said it may take four to eight weeks before his agency reveals its final findings. Before they’re publicity announced, the company can appeal the findings, he said.

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