JOHNSON CREEK — The U.S. Department of Labor has fined Sun Prairie-based Didion Milling Inc., with facilities in Johnson Creek, $676,000 and cited it for 14 violations after it was determined the firm violated grain-handling safety standards in the death of a worker in a Cambria corn silo in 2020.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the trouble was discovered after a worker, who was clearing corn debris from an unsafe silo, failed to arrive for a regularly scheduled meeting.

Concerned employees called 911 when they could not find the man at the silo, nor reach him by phone. It took emergency services nine hours to recover the body of the 52-year-old manager who was found engulfed in the silo operated by Didion Milling Inc. in Cambria in Dodge County.

“A U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigation of the Dec. 8, 2020, fatality found that the manager entered the unsafe grain bin despite recently having an external process underway to remove corn from the clogged silo,” U.S. Department of Labor Regional Director for Public Affairs and Media Relations Scott Allen said. “OSHA also determined that the external process should have continued for several more days before allowing anyone to enter the grain bin. The agency issued four willful and 10 serious safety citations, most involving requirements for safe entry into grain storage structures, and proposed $676,808 in penalties.”

Acting OSHA Regional Administrator William Donovan said Didion Milling’s failure to learn from recent incidents and follow industry standards, as well as their own company policies, cost the worker his life.

“Six of every 10 workers trapped in a grain bin don’t make it out alive. This is a frightening and tragic reality,” Donovan said. “Safety standards are in place to protect workers from serious and fatal injuries.”

Didion Milling’s recent history includes a May 2017 explosion that killed five workers and injured as many as 15 others, and a large grain shelf collapse in October 2020 that nearly engulfed an employee who was cleaning the inside of a grain bin.

Didion Milling has been in operation since 1972. The company operates a corn milling and biofuels facility in Cambria and production facilities in Johnson Creek and Markesan.

Ron Irwin of Didion’s media relations team said, “The loss of a member of our Didion work family is tragic and leaves a lasting impact. Our hearts remain with our team member’s family.”

He added that, although, “Didion respects OSHA and the important work it performs, we disagree with their conclusions and will work with OSHA to address those concerns while always striving to improve our safety program. OSHA’s regulations establish the base for our safety programs, but our commitment to safety goes well beyond OSHA requirements. We will remain steadfastly committed to safety as we move forward.”

Didion, which relocated its offices to The Continental Building on South Bristol Street in 2019, has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

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