Worker Safety

CQ Researcher

Should the government do more to punish violators?

Collin Vander Galien was taking a break from throwing 55-pound bags of corn into a rail car at a milling plant in Cambria, Wis., when he suddenly heard a blast. The next thing he knew, he was on his knees with his legs pinned under the collapsed train car.

“I couldn’t feel anything in my legs,” said Vander Galien, who had been working at the plant for four months when the accident occurred on May 31, 2017. Hours later, a surgeon and a paramedic amputated the 22-year-old’s legs at the scene.

Galien and 11 other employees survived the explosion, but five others died. A preliminary federal investigation attributed the blast to accumulations of combustible grain dust.

Safety inspectors with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) had cited Didion Milling in 2011 for safety violations — including a dust explosion hazard — and the company paid a $3,465 fine.3 Six months after the 2017 accident, OSHA fined Didion $1.8 million and issued 19 citations for “willful” and “serious” violations, including not controlling dust accumulation, maintaining equipment properly or training staff adequately.

Riley Didion, president of the family-owned nonunion company, has contested the citations but pledged to work with OSHA to rebuild with newer technology. “Safety is paramount to us,” he said.

Workers in a variety of industries face increased risk of death, injury or illness. An average of 14 U.S. workers are killed on the job every day, a 13 percent jump from 2013 to 2016 — from 4,585 deaths to 5,190.

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CQ Researcher, a publication of Sage Publishing, provides in-depth coverage of the most important issues of the day. The 10,000-word reports are written by experienced journalists, footnoted and professionally fact-checked. Full-length articles include an overview, historical background, chronology, pro/con feature, plus resources for additional research. Graphics, photos and short “sidebar” features round out the reports.