© 2024 University of Missouri - KBIA
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

OSHA Investigates Heartland Dairy after Third Death in Three Years

File photo

Heartland is a small community in northeast Missouri and is home to the state's largest dairy. Heartland Dairy is under investigation from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) after a worker died on the job in September. It's the third death there since 2012. But many of the employees at Heartland aren't the typical dairy workers; they're participants in a rehabilitation program.

Heartland Dairy is one part of the intentional Christian community created by Charles Sharpe, who made his fortune as the founder of Ozark National Life Insurance Company. Heartland is a small community, complete with shops, a church and a school.  

About 12 miles outside the main Heartland campus is the Men's Recovery Program, a 12-month long program that aims to rehabilitate addicts and felons. In a 2013 interview with KBIA, Sharpe said Heartland's program works, unlike prisons in Missouri.

"Very seldom do we have anyone that leaves here that goes back to prison. The state has about 90% return prisoners," Sharpe said.

Credit File photo / KBIA

  The program focuses on recovery through spirituality, work, education and counseling.  According to the Men's Recovery Program Handbook, there are clear policies outlining what participants can and cannot do, including how they dress and how they use their money.

The Handbook says when a person enters the program, the participant must hand over all personal bank accounts and credit cards to Heartland staff. Throughout the program, the participants receive a certain amount of spending money based on the amount they have saved.

Unlike other rehab programs, Heartland's only costs 200 dollars. Because participants are required to work as part of their treatment, the other costs of the program are deducted automatically from their pay.

According to Heartland's website, the majority of men in the program work at the dairy.

In 2013, KBIA spoke with Bubba, the dairy manager and a graduate of the men's recovery program. Bubba said many of the workers at the dairy don't have a lot of experience.

"Most of the people who come here don't have cattle background, no training even running tractors," he said.

And Bubba said because of the lack of experience, they rely on protocol.

"A lot of dairy runs in experience. We don't have a whole lot here so we run on protocol. We got to do things by the protocol and try to continue to follow that to keep things going," Bubba said.

But since 2012, OSHA has issued 37 violations to Heartland Dairy. OSHA Spokesperson Rhonda Burke said eight of those violations were issued in March.

"Some of those hazards were not turning off power to equipment prior to allowing employees to work on that equipment to do service and maintenance," Burke said.

Burke says these violations exposed workers to the risk of electrocution. Other violations included an unmarked opening in the floor and the failure to provide workers with masks while working with chemicals.

Sharpe Holdings Inc., which owns the diary, is contesting the most recent set of violations and the 54 thousand, five hundred dollar fine that comes with them.

In addition to the violations, three workers have died at the dairy since 2012.

According to the OSHA investigation, in October, 2012 a worker died when he was "struck by a tire rim."

And in 2014, "a 35-year-old worker who was doing maintenance on an overhead door died when he fell off a ladder and struck a concrete floor at the dairy farm," Burke said.

And in September, a 51-year-old worker was "ejected from a moving vehicle," according to OSHA's press release.

In these cases, the men were airlifted to hospitals in Quincy, Illinois, where they died. The coroner in these cases could not be reached for comment.

Without access to death certificates, it is unclear if these men were in the recovery program or if they were members of the Heartland community. Heartland did not return our requests for an interview for this story.

OSHA is currently investigating Heartland Dairy for the most recent death.

Michaela Tucker is a Minneapolis native currently studying broadcast journalism at the University of Missouri. She is also a co-founder of KBIA’s partner program Making Waves, a youth radio initiative that empowers Columbia Public Schools students to share their stories.
Related Content