Reducing Risk, Protecting People

OSHA Grain Bin Safety

Posted by Clarion Safety Systems | 31st Mar 2022

From April 4 to April 8, 2022, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), in alliance with the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA), is holding its annual Stand Up 4 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.

A Week Centered Around Education
This year Stand Up 4 Grain Safety Week has four distinct themed days where they will be hosting workshops and free materials around the topics. The event titles are as follows:

April 5: Electrical Safety
There will be a free virtual training session hosted by the Grain Handling Safety Council that covers electrical shock and arc flash identification and risk reduction methods. They also will be covering a second session on NFPA 70 best practices.

April 6: Heat Stress and Other Weather Related Events
Events held this day will be hosted in both English and Spanish, covering the best strategies to protect workers in fields, feedlots, and grain facilities during and after extreme weather events.

April 7: Personal Protective Equipment
A webinar will be hosted to highlight the new innovations being made in PPE as well as tips to encourage workers to wear it around the workplace when needed.

April 8: STF, Crush, Stuck-By Hazards
Two sessions will be offered for this day, covering the hazards and injury risks of loading and unloading grain under different circumstances. An on demand session will be available for reducing and identifying slip, trip, and fall hazards, along with administrative controls.

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:

  1. Turn off and lock out equipment before entering bins or performing maintenance
  2. Never walk down grain to make it flow
  3. Place a train observer outside of the bin in case of emergency
  4. Test the air in the bin before entering
  5. Control the accumulation of grain dust with housekeeping
  6. Do not enter a bin where grain is built up on one side
  7. Use a safety harness and anchored lifeline

The first Stand Up for Grain Safety Week was held in 2017 and had 942 registered participants, last year in 2021 they totaled 3,527 participants by the end of the week from 24 different countries. 2022 marks the initiative’s sixth 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. The good news is, that from 2019 to 2020, there has been a 4.5 percent decrease in grain entrapments, an encouraging safety trend for the future.

Confined Spaces
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, 57 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.

Engulfment Hazards
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 harnesses and lifelines – are an important element of preventing injuries and deaths from these hazards.

Machine Guarding
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.

Respiratory Protection
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.

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