SIDNEY — Federal investigators have started an inquiry into a 55-year-old Sidney man's death in a grain bin Wednesday at the Premier Cooperative elevator in Sidney.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration spokesman Scott Allen in the Department of Labor's Chicago office said Thursday that OSHA opened the investigation into the death of Roy L. McCarty and is interviewing witnesses and company officials to determine whether OSHA regulations were being followed.
"We'll look at the safety equipment and things that were at the facility to make a determination on whether it might have been avoided," Allen said.
OSHA has up to six months to complete the investigation.
"Usually with a fatality, it does take longer," Allen said.
If any violations are found, fines could be assessed.
Meanwhile, Champaign County Coroner Duane Northrup said preliminary findings from an autopsy performed on Thursday indicated that Mr. McCarty died due to asphyxia due to entrapment under grain inside the bin.
The death is being investigated by the coroner's office and the Champaign County sheriff's office.
OSHA standards for grain-handling facilities include a requirement that workers who enter storage bins wear a body harness with a lifeline or a boatswain's chair and that an observer equipped to provide assistance and perform rescue operations be stationed outside the bin.
"With a situation like this, there's a mentality out there that 'I'm just going in there for a minute to walk down the grain, and nothing's going to happen to me,'" Allen said. "We've been trying to have as much outreach as possible. We don't want you to go in bins. But if you have to, you must have a harness, lifeline and observer, so if something does happen to you, you can be rescued. It's the employer's responsibility to make sure the rules are being followed."
OSHA offers grain bin safety training to employers and has "abundant" information on its website, Allen said.
"Harnesses are not that expensive," Allen said. "It's just trying to change the culture of the farmers to protect themselves."
Mr. McCarty, who was superintendent at the Sidney facility, was buried in corn as he worked Wednesday morning inside a 480,000-bushel-capacity grain bin. Premier CEO Roger Miller said the bin was "almost empty."
"He was a great individual, a good family member, good employee and good friend," Miller said of Mr. McCarty.
It was the first accident at the Sidney elevator, according to Miller.
Specially trained firefighters worked for more than three hours before recovering Mr. McCarty's body.
According to OSHA, it takes only 4 to 5 seconds to become trapped in a grain bin and only 22 seconds to become covered.
Statistics from the Carle Foundation Hospital Center for Rural Health and Farm Safety indicate that entrapment in grain storage has led to 65 Illinois deaths since 1986.