From March 29 to April 2, 2021, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), in alliance with the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA), is holding its annual Stand Up for Grain Safety Week. This nationwide event is an opportunity to foster dialogue between employers and workers in the interest of promoting OSHA grain bin safety.
Employers are encouraged to participate by holding voluntary Safety Stand-Ups in which they hold talks with employees about the latent hazards involved with working in a grain bin or other confined space, review OSHA-mandated safety protocols, and reinforce the importance of preventing incidents of grain bin entrapment and engulfment. Workers are also encouraged to take an active role in the Safety Stand-Ups by offering ideas to improve bin safety, as well as expressing any related concerns they may have.
7 Steps for Safer Outcomes in the Grain Industry
Grain handling is a high hazard industry. Workers can be exposed to many serious and life-threatening hazards. That includes: fires and explosions from grain dust accumulation, suffocation from engulfment and entrapment in grain bins, falls from heights and crushing injuries and amputations from grain handling equipment. Every year, hundreds of workers are hurt or die on the job due to preventable hazards related to grain storage and handling. As part of the safety week efforts, the OSHA-NGFA Alliance and its safety week partners provide resources to promote safer grain bin practices in the workplace.
The alliance has identified seven critical steps for grain safety:
- Turn off and lock out equipment before entering bins or performing maintenance
- Never walk down grain to make it flow
- Place a train observer outside of the bin in case of emergency
- Test the air in the bin before entering
- Control the accumulation of grain dust with housekeeping
- Do not enter a bin where grain is built up on one side
- Use a safety harness and anchored lifeline
The first Stand Up for Grain Safety Week was held in 2017 and had 942 registered participants. 2021 marks the initiative’s fifth year with a growing number of organizations joining together to reach a more diverse audience in the grain industry, specifically those at the worker level and in the production environment.
Every year in the United States there are approximately 15 to 20 reported entrapments in grain storage units. The number of incidents that aren’t reported may be even higher, but out of the incidents that are reported, 55 percent result in fatalities, some involving workers attempting to rescue the original victim.
The number of work-related deaths involving confined spaces, including grain bins, throughout the U.S. is approximately 90 per year, according to OSHA. The term "confined spaces" may sometimes cause confusion for employers and workers alike, evoking images of a small, enclosed space. Such areas may be included in the term "confined spaces" but do not define it.
The definition of an OSHA confined space is an enclosure not designed for continuous human occupancy with restricted or limited means of exit. As for size, the minimum requirement for a confined space is that it be at least large enough for a person to enter although, in the case of grain bins, silos, etc., it can also be considerably bigger.
Because of the presence of grain that has the potential to shift and engulf a person, as well as the potential for a hazardous atmosphere making it difficult or impossible to breathe properly, grain bins are confined spaces that require a permit to enter. The expectation is that all employees with a permit to enter a grain silo receive proper confined space training to prevent accidents and respond appropriately in the event that one does occur. Even with procedures and permit and non-permit required confined space signs and labels in place, entrapments can still happen, but they're far less likely to occur when protocols are followed.
When grain is put into motion, due to gravity or by mechanical means, while a worker is inside a silo or similar structure, it can act on a human body similar to the way that quicksand does, causing the worker to lose his/her footing due to its instability and engulfing him/her in the shifting material. If rescue attempts are not successful, the person can become buried beneath the grain and suffocate. Conditions that can cause the grain within the bin to move include the following:
- Collapse of accumulated grain along the side of the bin
- Bridging of grain that sticks together, hiding a space underneath
- Grain flow caused by operation of equipment that was not properly locked out and tagged prior to a worker entering the bin
Fall protection measures and clear safety procedures – which can be supported by slip, trip and fall labels, trip hazard signs, and PPE reinforcement signs related to the use of body harnesesses and lifelines – are an important element of preventing injuries and deaths from these hazards.
However, it’s not only the movement of grain inside the bin that can cause injury to workers. Even outside the silo, moving machine parts have the potential to cause burns, amputations, and other severe workplace injuries. OSHA has requirements in place for safeguards to protect workers from machine injuries at the operating controls, the point of operation, and the power transmission device that connects the two. There are two basic type of safeguards required by OSHA:
- Safety devices that restrain the operator's hands from the danger area, require the use of both hands to operate the equipment, or stop the machine if any body part is placed within the danger area
- Barriers that prevent access to danger areas.
Safety labels, signs and tags can also alert workers to the danger in the area and advise them on the correct procedures to follow. This can include equipment labels and signs, accident prevention signs, electrical lockout/tagout labels and electrical hazard signs.
The hazards within a grain bin may sometimes be so subtle as to be invisible to the naked eye. The interior of a bin can harbor dust, and the corn and other crops held within can sometimes produce noxious gases, either of which can make breathing difficult and pose a threat of asphyxiation for the workers within. Injuries from exposure to respiratory hazards often take time to manifest; some workers do not start showing symptoms until many years later.
OSHA requires the use of a respirator, one of several types of special gear to prevent the wearer from breathing in harmful airborne agents, when working in environments in which the air may be oxygen deficient or contaminated. The type of respirator used is specific to the hazards involved, and respirators must be certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. When conditions require use of respirators, OSHA requires employers to write a respiratory protection program in accordance with its rigorous standards. PPE reinforcement signs and PPE labels that call attention to asphyxiation hazards and the need to wear dust masks and respiratory protection can serve as important reminders to keep employees safe.
Warnings and instructions – whether through labels on equipment, information in machinery manuals, or signs in workplaces – play a key role in raising workers' awareness of grain bin safety and related hazards. View our high quality safety labels, signs and tags, as well as custom printing options – or reach out to the Clarion Safety team today to see how we can help with your project. We also offer comprehensive machinery safety and risk assessment services.
This blog was originally posted on 3/25/19 and has been updated with new information throughout.