One year, four accidents at Archer Daniels Midland’s Decatur, Ill. headquarters; company fined over $400,000 in past 10 years

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Archer Daniels Midland headquarters in Decatur, Illinois. Photo from ADM's website.

An explosion in September at the Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) plant in Decatur, Illinois injured eight workers, but federal work safety data shows it was only the latest in series of safety incidents and issues over the past 10 years.

The September explosion is the fourth incident this year at the plant. An August three-alarm fire, an April dust explosion and an April rail accident also left people hospitalized, and one person died.

Since 2013, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has investigated the company 32 times, resulting in $405,418 in fines. The issues are categorized as either health or safety violations, but all have been identified as safety violations. 

The majority of the fines came as a result of the April explosion this year — totaling $324,796.

OSHA’s database provides inspection records and details health and safety violations of various companies such as ADM. Inspections are either planned, or they can be as a result of a complaint or referral. When an inspection is issued, the details are recorded and filed on OSHA’s website.

Decatur is home to ADM’s North American headquarters, making it the “single largest location and employee base across ADM’s global footprint,” according to its website. The facility is home to nearly 4,000 employees and is one of the largest corn wet mills in the world. 

The Decatur facility has been inspected by OSHA five times this year. Only one was planned.

Details of serious safety violations from ADM’s Decatur facility date back years. In 2018, an employee suffered serious injuries after falling six feet. In 2016, an employee died after disassembling equipment. 

David Horn, Decatur city council member, said he believes ADM’s repeated explosions and fires should sprout its own private investigations.

“I’m very thankful that the federal government is going to provide an investigation into a couple of those incidents,” Horn said in an interview. “I hope that [the] ADM company will also do its own investigations. I think that all parties want to make sure that these types of incidents don’t take place so that the employees stay safe at their workplace, but also that the city’s residents feel safe near manufacturing facilities as well.”

ADM Media Relations Director Jackie Anderson said in a statement safety of workers is a core value for the company.  

“The safety of our employees is always our top priority,” Anderson said. “We take incidents like these very seriously and are fully cooperating with OSHA’s investigation.”

OSHA categorizes the scope of the investigation as partial or complete. Of the 32 listed, there have been five complete investigations, and 26 were partial investigations. One case was marked as “No Inspection”. Six citations were deleted, removing the associated fine, due to settlement or a change in the investigation.  

A screenshot of OSHA’s database showing Archer Daniels Midland’s inspection activity and safety violation details. Source: OSHA Establishment Search

Any violations or penalties given are classified as serious, willful, repeat, other or unclassified. Their 2018 citation was classified as serious after an employee fell 6 feet after being hit in the head with an agitator motor inlet filter. 

They were transported to the hospital but suffered multiple fractures to their skull, both eye sockets, nose, cheekbones, ribs and wrist, and trauma on their right elbow and knee. The company initially incurred $10,163 in violation fees. 

In April 2016, OSHA reported how an employee suffered fatal injuries while disassembling a piece of equipment within one of the plants. A chain fell off a trolley system and swung into another piece of equipment, then into the employee’s face. The individual had a fractured cheekbone and sternum and later died from those injuries.

Four accidents, one death at ADM’s Headquarters in 2023

ADM’s third explosion this year occurred at 7 p.m. on September 10. The explosion was so intense that neighboring residents reported to local news that they felt their houses shake from the eruption. Large plumes of dark smoke rose high above the ten-story facility. 

The blast brought over 30 firefighters to the food manufacturing plant that Sunday evening, where it then took them nearly seven hours to get under control as noted by the police report. Facilities adjacent to the fire, including a corn processing plant, also received significant damage. 

The explosion left eight employees seriously injured, and six were taken by helicopter and ambulance to the local hospital to receive care for their wounds. However, this is the company’s third accident in a single year – all of which involved serious injuries. This prompted OSHA to investigate the scene for a third time this year.  

A few weeks prior to the explosion, a third-alarm fire erupted at ADM’s east plant within their processing tank, requiring triple the number of firefighters, trucks and equipment. Third-alarm fires are considered to be very large fires in nature and typically take a prolonged time to extinguish. 46 firefighters were called to extinguish the fire, leaving two in the hospital. First responders were at the facility until 5 a.m. the next morning working on getting the fire under control. 

In April of this year, a dust explosion in ADM’s West plant within their grain elevators left three employees hospitalized. Ten days prior, a rail accident resulted in the death of a locomotive operator.

The September explosion received a considerable amount of attention from the press and even made national news. The incident prompted Illinois Governor JB Pritzker to share his sentiments in a post on Facebook for those injured by the explosion. He offers employees and the company “state support” in any way possible and wishes “a speedy recovery for the workers.” 

OSHA’s third investigation into ADM’s working conditions for its employees in a single year raised the attention of many. Illinois Congresswoman Nikki Budzinski said she believes the company’s third explosion this year warrants a thorough investigation. 

“I’m glad to see that OSHA is doing this investigation… I think this situation calls for an investigation, that investigation is underway. And like I said, I’m very much looking forward to see the answers, to what turns up,” Budzinski told local news WCIA. 

OSHA explained in a statement how they have “six months to complete its investigation, issue citations and propose penalties if violations of workplace safety and health regulations are found.” 

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