OSHA probes silo death

By Darrell Todd Maurina

The general manager of AGP Grain Marketing’s elevator operations in Texas said the man who died Thursday in a Farwell grain elevator perished in wheat only 8 to 12 feet deep.
Ben Brandvik said much of his time over the last few days has been spent trying to make sure employees are offered grief counseling with regard to the death of Samuel Alvarado and that they cooperate with an investigation by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The company’s safety director and an expert in operations have arrived from corporate offices in Omaha, Neb., to assist in the investigation, Brandvik said.
Brandvik said he didn’t yet have detailed historical safety data available for the Farwell elevator, but wasn’t aware of any major accidents and nothing that may have happened in the past was comparable to Thursday’s death.
“Certainly this is the first fatality I’ve seen,” Brandvik said. “There has never been an incident like this at these facilities … It’s certainly out of the realm of day-to-day experience.”
Although Alvarado had only been working at the Farwell elevator for two years, family members said he had decades of prior experience in the grain elevator business. Brandvik said he was a good employee.
“I would like to say that he was dearly loved by his fellow workers and he will be missed tremendously by everyone,” Brandvik said. “We’ve made food available to the family, we’ve made some transportation available to them, we’ve provided motel rooms, and we will continue to do all we can for the family as we continue to get to the bottom of this.”
Brandvik said Alvarado’s family members have been offered the same grief counseling provided to employees.
Brandvik said he wanted to correct early reports that police had been called because employees didn’t know Alvarado’s location.
“After only a few moments, it became certain where Alvarado was, but it took some time to get the grain out and recover Sam,” Brandvik said.
Brandvik said the initial investigation indicates Alvarado was working to clear between 3,000 and 5,000 bushels of grain out of the bin.
“The situation as best as we can tell right now — and it’s not final by any means — is the silo was being emptied with the plan of cleaning out the bin later in the day,” Brandvik said. “When grain is moving downward in a bin, it certainly has the ability to pull a person down with it and that’s typically the situation when someone is engulfed in grain and suffocates in a bin.”
Brandvik said OSHA employees began their investigation on Friday and are expected to take several weeks to a month or more to look into the situation before they issue their report.
Alvarado, 61, is survived by his wife Angela, three sons, six daughters, 12 grandchildren, his mother, and five sisters. Funeral services will be at 2 p.m. (CST) Monday at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Muleshoe, where he was a member.