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FACEValue: Engulfed sawmill worker dies in storage silo

NIOSH’s Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation Reports
Date of incident: May 17, 2004

A 36-year-old sawmill worker entered a silo to unclog a sweep auger advance mechanism. As he worked, sawdust piled up as high as 30 feet before collapsing and engulfing him. Although the company had a safety program, it was later found to be deficient. The confined space and hazardous energy program consisted of a seven-minute video in English, in spite of the fact that Spanish was the primary language of half of the workforce – including the victim. Prior to the incident, one of the victim’s co-workers entered the silo to clear the sweep auger but quickly left when he deemed the conditions unsafe. Reportedly, the victim entered the silo despite multiple warnings from co-workers. Several minutes later, a co-worker heard a noise that prompted him to call out to the victim. When he received no response, he and several co-workers began digging through the sawdust to locate the victim. Once they located him they contacted a senior official, who called 911. Emergency medical services arrived and attempted resuscitation. The victim was transported to a local hospital and pronounced dead by an emergency room physician.

To prevent future occurrences:

Employers should ensure equipment is inspected daily and all defective equipment is removed from service until necessary repairs have been made. Employers should designate a supervisor to be responsible for pre-shift equipment checks and ensuring inspections are done regularly, necessary repairs are made, scheduled maintenance is performed and service records are kept. All equipment that is not operating properly should be removed from service, and hazardous energy should be locked out before any maintenance or repairs are performed.

Employers should consider retrofitting silos and other storage facilities with mechanical leveling/raking devices, or other means to minimize the need for workers to enter. Leveling/raking devices such as mechanical agitators or vibrators could minimize or eliminate the need for workers to enter storage facilities and risk engulfment. A hopper-bottom silo also would have helped limit the buildup of sawdust and the need for worker entry.

Employers should post warnings at entrances to permit-required confined spaces in languages that all workers understand. Employers should post warnings of immediate danger and notify workers that special requirements are necessary at each entrance to a permit-required confined space. Signs should be in languages that all employees can understand.

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