Negligence led to Mississippi grain bin death, officials say

Apr 20, 2023, 1:36 PM

GREENWOOD, Miss. (AP) — A South African teenage farm worker who suffocated to death after falling into a grain storage bin would still be alive had a Mississippi soybean farm followed federal workplace safety standards, inspectors with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration determined.

Bare Bones Farms, located in the Mississippi Delta town of Greenwood, violated federal law by failing to ensure workers wore full-body harnesses connected to a lifeline before four of them were engulfed by soybeans inside a storage bin in an October 2022 incident, the labor department said Wednesday. A 19-year-old South African farmworker, whose body wasn’t recovered for five hours, suffocated.

“Well-known safety standards that protect people from the grave dangers of working in grain bins have been in place for decades, and yet Bare Bones Farms jeopardized the lives of its employees by ignoring federal regulations,” said OSHA Area Director Courtney Bohannon in a Wednesday news release. “As a result, the life of a young man who traveled more than 8,500 miles to work in the U.S. ended tragically.”

The 19-year-old, two co-workers and their supervisor had climbed into a storage bin to unclog it, but the soybeans inside shifted and trapped them in seconds. Emergency responders cut a hole in the storage bin’s side to rescue the workers, but it took them five hours to find the deceased 19-year-old. The other workers survived.

In addition to the teenager, two other workers involved in the incident were South African citizens brought to work in Mississippi under the H-2A temporary agricultural workers visa program.

OSHA investigators also discovered the company failed to train employees on general safety precautions for entering storage bins, the labor department said. The agency has proposed over $90,000 in penalties for the violations.

A representative for Bare Bones Farms could not immediately be reached by phone for comment Thursday.

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Negligence led to Mississippi grain bin death, officials say