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OSHA rules companies won't be cited for worker electrocutions

The family of a teenage girl electrocuted while doing some field work in northwestern Illinois last summer is expressing outrage today. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has ruled that neither of two companies the family accuses of being responsible will be cited for safety shortcomings.

Hannah Kendall, 14, and Jade Garza, 14, died July 25 when they touched an irrigation system that apparently had become electrified when lightning struck the electrical control mechanisms. The girls were on a crew of young people that was detasseling flowers from corn stalks in a field near Tampico. A number of other members of the crew were injured in the workplace accident.

There is some concern that OSHA's decision could have a stifling effect on the wrongful death claim being pursued by the parents of the two girls. They claim that Monsanto, the seed company for which the corn was being grown, and the company that hired the detasseling crew, should have known about the dangers with the irrigation system.

But investigators say that despite a six-month investigation they found no evidence to suggest the companies could have prevented the situation that led to the deaths and injuries. The agency also says that having failed to establish elements of a clear workplace safety violation, no citation is possible.

At the same time, OSHA is using the case to recommend that growers and landlords make sure that irrigation systems are bonded and grounded to prevent the possibility of catastrophes in the future. And Monsanto, while insisting it didn't know about the problem at the time, has issued new rules to beef up farm field safety.

That's little consolation for the families of the two dead girls, however. The attorney representing them in their wrongful death suit calls the OSHA findings "disgusting." Pointing to the OSHA recommendations to improve safety, he suggests that the ruling represents either a monumental failure by government regulators or a knuckling under to intimidation from big business.

Source: DeKalb Daily Chronicle, "OSHA: Companies not at fault for girls' deaths," Tara Becker, Jan. 26, 2012

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