August 6, 2011 / 1:15 AM / 8 years ago

Grain elevator company pleads guilty in teen death

DENVER (Reuters) - A rural Colorado company pleaded guilty in federal court in Denver on Friday to violating workplace laws in the death of a 17-year-old boy who suffocated after he was sucked into a bin being filled with grain.

Tempel Grain Elevators LLP, under a plea agreement with prosecutors, must pay the family of Cody Rigsby $500,000 for his May 2009 death.

The company was also ordered pay a $50,000 fine to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration to supplement a $1.6 million fine the agency leveled against Tempel in 2009.

Rigsby and other workers at a Haswell, Colorado, plant were routinely required to perform hazardous tasks, according to court documents.

When he was killed, Rigsby was 15 feet off the ground performing a job called “walking the grain,” in which workers step around the edge of a grain bin, dislodging clumps as they flow into the container.

Rigsby lost his footing at a hatch opening for the bin. He was sucked inside, where the weight of the grain crushed his chest, prosecutors said.

The teenager was not equipped with a safety harness.

Efforts by Rigsby’s co-workers to revive him failed and the high school student died of asphyxiation.

Under the plea deal, Tempel Elevators agreed to stop hiring workers under the age of 18, to provide workers with appropriate safety equipment, and to conduct on-site safety training programs.

David Michaels, an assistant secretary of labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said in a written statement that the boy’s death was “a terrible tragedy” that could have been prevented.

At least 26 U.S. workers were killed in grain entrapments last year, according to researchers at Purdue University.

The number of reported grain entrapments has risen in recent years, as larger crops were harvested and domestic corn demand for ethanol resulted in a build-up of storage capacity in the Midwest, the Purdue study said.

Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Peter Bohan

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