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Hope grain death results in OSHA citations

Paul Frantum, grain, hope, OSHA, citations, death
Paul Frantum
Rick Bussler, Publisher

A Mankato-based farm cooperative is challenging several serious charges and potential hefty fines leveled against it by state officials in the 2022 death of a worker at a Steele County grain bin owned by the coop.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued five citations against Crystal Valley Cooperative for what it claims was a lack of training and equipment provided by the company resulting in the death. OSHA is seeking $140,000 in penalties against Crystal Valley. All the citations are considered serious in nature and each one accounts for $28,000 in fines, the most allowed by law for that particular category and given the cooperative’s previously clean record. Willful and repeat violations drive up the fine amounts, which were not determined to take place in this case.

Violations are 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.

The citations stem from the death of Paul Jasper Frantum, 36, of Pemberton on June 16, 2022, at the Hope grain facilities owned by Crystal Valley. Frantum, who was loading a train at the time, was buried alive in soybeans. It took rescuers from multiple fire, EMS and law enforcement agencies eight hours to recover his body.

The reports filed by shed some new details that had never been previously released. While Frantum was engulfed in soybeans, a second worker was inside the bin at the time and escaped by climbing a fixed ladder on the bin wall.  

Crystal Valley is contesting the citations, according to James Honerman, spokesperson for the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry. He said it’s unknown if Crystal Valley is challenging one or more of the citations.

According to the citations, OSHA alleges proper training was not given to perform the tasks being conducted by Frantum at the time of the incident. It claims training on proper top bin entry procedures was not conducted.

OSHA also alleges that prior to entry, mechanical, electrical, hydraulic and pneumatic equipment which presented a danger to employees inside were not disconnected, locked out and tagged, blocked off or prevented from operating by other means or methods.

Another charge claims that the victim did not wear a body harness with lifeline or use a boatswain’s chair. The charges state that two employees entered the bin from the top door, walked on the grain and were not equipped with a body harness with the necessary precautionary equipment attached.

An observer equipped to provide assistance was not stationed outside of the bin at the entry point, according to OSHA’s complaint.

The final charge claims Crystal Valley did not provide equipment for rescue operations, which was specifically suited for the bin. Specifically, the charges allege, Crystal Valley did not supply a body harness with lifeline and hoist or other means of retrieval to the two employees who entered the grain bin.

OSHA sent an investigator to the scene of the incident in 2022. OSHA inspects the work area for safety and health hazards, interviews the employer and other employees and reviews any required training procedures and training records prior to issuing its findings.

A review of OSHA records shows Crystal Valley has been the subject of three “planned” inspections since 2014. In 2014, eight serious violations in two separate inspections at the Lake Crystal facility resulted in $16,225 of penalties. Another inspection at the Waseca facility in 2016 resulted in no violations.

Mandy Hunecke, a spokesperson for Crystal Valley, said that the cooperative would not have any comment while the Hope incident remains under investigation. She expected it might be late summer or fall before the case is resolved.

Crystal Valley is a leading farm supply and grain marketing cooperative focused on serving the needs of crop farmers and livestock producers in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa. It opened the state-of-the-art facility in Hope 10 years ago.

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