Grain handling plants receive, manage, store, process, and ship a variety of raw agricultural goods, such as, corn, wheat, oats, barley, sunflower seeds, and soybeans.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) considers the grain handling industry a “high hazard industry where workers can be exposed to numerous serious and life threatening hazards.”
Grain Handling Hazards
- Fires and explosions from grain dust accumulation
- Suffocation from engulfment and entrapment in grain bins
- Falls from heights
- Crushing injuries and amputations from grain handling equipment
- Unhealthy levels of airborne contaminants, including molds, toxic chemicals, and gases
OSHA warns, “Suffocation is the leading cause of death in grain storage bins. In 2010, 51 workers were engulfed by grain stored in bins, and 26 died – the highest number on record.”
OSHA highlights one such tragedy: Two young workers (ages 14 and 19) were killed at a grain storage facility in the Midwest when they were sent into a grain bin to “walk down the corn.” The grain bin was being emptied, and the workers’ task was to break up clumps by walking on them to make the corn flow out of the bin. The workers were not provided safety harnesses, and the machinery used for evacuating the grain was running. The suction created by the flowing grain pulled them in like quicksand and suffocated them. Workers should never be inside a grain bin when it is being emptied out, because a sinkhole can form and pull down the worker in a matter of seconds. OSHA standards prohibit this dangerous practice. This company ignored that rule as well as other protective safety requirements. In addition, child labor laws made it illegal for this company to employ a 14-year-old to work in a grain silo.
Employers must provide a healthy and safe workplace for their employees. OSHA encourages employers to implement and enforce safety guidelines to address the numerous potential hazards of grain handling and to reduce employee injury.
To prevent another suffocation tragedy, like the one above, employers must:
- Turn off, disconnect and lock out all powered equipment associated with the bin that poses a danger to employees inside the grain structure, including augers used to help move the grain, so that the grain is not being emptied or moving out or into the bin [1910.272(g)(1)(ii)]. Standing on moving grain is deadly; the grain can act like quicksand and bury a worker very quickly. Moving grain out of a bin creates a suction that can swiftly pull and bury any workers who are in the bin.
- Prohibit walking down grain and similar practices where an employee walks on grain to make it flow [1910.272(g)(1)(iv)].
- Provide each worker entering a bin from a level at or above stored grain, or when a worker will walk or stand on stored grain, with a body harness. The body harness should have a lifeline that is positioned and is of sufficient length to prevent a worker from sinking further than waist-deep in grain [1910.272(g)(2)].
- Provide an observer stationed outside the bin or silo being entered by an employee and maintain communication between the observer and the employee who enters. Ensure the observer is equipped to provide assistance [1910.272(g)(3)].
- Prohibit workers from entry into bins or silos underneath a bridging condition, or where a build-up of grain products on the sides could fall and bury them [1910.272(g)(6)].
- Provide training about engulfment and mechanical hazards to employees assigned special tasks such as bin entry [1910.272(e)(2)].
- Test the air within a bin or silo prior to entry for the presence of combustible and toxic gases, and to determine if there is sufficient oxygen [1910.272(g)(1)(iii)].
- Provide and continue ventilation until any unsafe atmospheric conditions are eliminated. If toxicity or oxygen deficiency cannot be eliminated, workers must wear appropriate respirators [1910.272(g)(1)(iii) A and B].
- Ensure a permit is issued for each instance a worker enters a bin or silo, certifying that the precautions listed above have been implemented [1910.272(g)(1)(i)].
OSHA reminds workers, they have the right to:
- Working conditions that do not pose a risk of serious harm.
- Receive information and training (in a language and vocabulary they understand) about workplace hazards, methods to prevent them, and the OSHA standards that apply to their workplace.
- Review records of work-related injuries and illnesses.
- Get copies of test results that find measure hazards.
- File a confidential complaint asking OSHA to inspect their workplace if they believe there is a serious hazard or that their employer is not following OSHA’s rules.
- Exercise their rights under the law without retaliation or discrimination.
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