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DIGGING DEEPER: Serious safety violations at ethanol plant prior to fatal accident

BLUFFTON, Ind. (WPTA21) — ABC21 is Digging Deeper into a history of safety violations at a Bluffton ethanol plant where a contractor died in an industrial accident Wednesday morning.

The Wells County Coroner has identified the victim as 42-year-old Ryan West from Ohio. Police say he was already dead – trapped in a piece of machinery – by the time first responders arrived.

Our Digging Deeper team has uncovered the Bluffton ethanol plant had a history of violating workplace safety laws.

Just five months ago, the Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration (IOSHA) fined the plant a total of $9,000 for serious safety violations involving the control of hazardous energy and machinery guarding requirements.

Eight years earlier, in 2011, IOSHA found a serious safety violations involving oxygen-fuel gas welding and cutting.

IOSHA also inspected the plant in 2012 after receiving a safety complaint, but the case was closed eight days later without any violations or fines.

Valero Renewable Fuels took over the Bluffton plant from Green Plains, Inc. in November of last year.

As a whole, Valero is one of the largest ethanol producers in the country. It operates 14 plants in seven midwestern states.

The Bluffton plant has been in operation since 2008 and processes about 40 million bushels of corn each year and manufactures 115 million gallons of ethanol.

At this time the plant has 55 full-time workers.

The plant is located on South Adams Street.

Ryan West, the man killed Wednesday morning, was not a Valero employee, but he was a contractor for a grain equipment supplier in Ohio who was working at the plant.

Police say several Valero employees called 911 around 10 a.m. saying they couldn’t find West and feared he had been in an accident. When emergency crews got inside, they found his body caught in a piece of equipment.

An autopsy will determine how West died and IOSHA investigators will examine how he got tangled in the equipment.

Alexis Shear

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