One person is dead after a grain bin at the Union Mills Co-op in northwestern Indiana exploded on Monday, the Associated Press reports. The victim was an employee believed to be working in the silo at the time of the blast. No other injuries were reported.
The Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has no record of any inspections at the plant. It is now investigating the blast.
The cause of the explosion is still unknown, although concrete silos can be very dangerous because they seal tightly and grain dust is highly volatile, as Purdue University farm safety expert Steve Wettschurack told the AP. A small spark, even from a hammer, can cause an explosion. The police department has said that no hazardous chemicals were involved or released in the explosion.
More than 500 explosions in grain-handling facilities over the last 35 years have killed 180 people and injured more than 675, according to OSHA’s website. At least 27 grain bin accidents occurred in 2011, eight of which were fatal, according to a Purdue University study.
The explosion comes days after a man died from suffocation after being sucked into a grain silo in Veedersburg, Indiana on Wednesday. Suffocation is the leading cause of death in grain storage bins. In 2010, 51 workers were engulfed by grain stored in bins, when grain acts like quicksand after getting stuck to the side of a silo or being moved, and of those 26 died, the highest number on record, according to OSHA’s website.
These accidents come after a string of other workplace accidents in recent months. Earlier in June, two different chemical plants exploded in Louisiana, the first in Geismar, killing two people and injuring 73, and the second in Donaldsonville, killing one person and injuring seven. A fertilizer plant in West, Texas exploded in April, killing 15 people and injuring more than 160.
The plant in Geismar hadn’t received an OSHA inspection in at least two decades and the one in West hadn’t been inspected since 1985. OSHA issued a six-figure fine against the Donaldsville plant in 2000 after an explosion killed three workers and injured eight. The West plant also slipped past six other regulatory agencies.
Thanks to a perpetually low budget and staffing difficulties due in part to low pay, state OSHA inspections have become very rare, with the average workplace only seeing an inspector every 99 years. The federal-level agency is usually unable to step in, however, thanks to its own funding problems, which has led Rep. George Miller (D-CA) to introduce a bill that would give it more authority to intervene in state plans and strengthen fines and prosecutions against violations. But sequestration will only make the problem worse, potentially leading to 1,200 fewer inspections.
The lack of inspections contributes to a high rate of workplace deaths. There were over 4,500 fatalities in 2010 alone. While big business and conservatives warn that stricter workplace regulations would be costly, the cost of these fatalities is already quite large. Workplace injuries and illnesses cost society $250 billion thanks to medical and indirect expenses.