Confined Space Training and Safety Tips

Posted by Clarion Safety Systems on 18th Sep 2020

“National_farm-Safety-Week”

National Farm Safety and Health Week is September 20 – 26, 2020. Time to brush up on the training and safety tips you need to know to help prevent accidental injuries and deaths due to enclosures and entrapments.

Farming is an economically foundational industry, both throughout the world and within the U.S. in particular. The industry contributes approximately $992 billion to the country's economy annually, according to the Department of Agriculture.

Yet in farmers' drive to produce high-quality ingredients for the masses, it's also one of the more dangerous industries. An estimated 25 fatalities per 100,000 workers occur each year, based on figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That rate is over seven times higher than virtually all other industries, including mining and transportation, whose rates are 14 per 100,000 workers. This high injury rate in the agriculture industry is why National Farm Safety and Health Week is recognized annually in the U.S., the third week of September, to bring awareness to hazards and prevention measures.

Because farmers are engaged in labor intensive work in many different capacities, the threats are similarly numerous, not the least of which are tasks performed in confined spaces.

2020’s Topics of Focus — Including Considerations for COVID-19 Prevention Among Agricultural Workers
The theme for 2020’s National Farm Safety and Health Week is “Every Farmer Counts.” The theme reflects an effort to acknowledge and celebrate the American farming and ranching industry and the challenges it has overcome to continuously provide the goods we need. Without farmers, who make up less than one percent of the U.S. population, we simply would not have many of the essentials we require. It’s time to put a greater emphasis on farmers’ health and safety.

This year, the daily themes are as follows:

  • Monday, September 21 - Tractor Safety & Rural Roadway Safety
  • Tuesday, September 22 - Overall Farmer Health
  • Wednesday, September 23 - Safety & Health for Youth in Agriculture
  • Thursday, September 24 - Emergency Preparedness in Agriculture
  • Friday, September 25 - Safety & Health for Women in Agriculture

On Tuesday, a webinar will be hosted related to COVID-19 titled “Lessons Learned in Covid-19 Prevention Efforts among Agriculture Workers and Employers.” It touches on the unique challenges presented while trying to prevent and control the spread of COVID-19 in the agricultural industry. Topics will include best practices in testing and contact/social distancing to help workers incorporate reduction strategies on their property.

The Dangers of Confined Spaces
While farmers are particularly susceptible, due to having to work with grain bins, silos, fertilizer containers and more, the danger impacts countless other industries. OSHA reports that roughly 2.1 million workers access permit-required confined spaces per year – most as part of work functions like routine maintenance, repairs, and inspections. Tragically, far too many individuals who enter these vessels and bins don't come out.

Entrapments, Engulfments and Suffocation – By the Numbers
Consider these sobering statistics compiled by the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety (NECAS):

  • Between 15-20 reported grain entrapments transpire annually in the U.S. – which doesn't include the many more that go unreported, deadly or otherwise
  • Of these, more than half – 55 percent – cause death as a result of engulfments, suffocation or drowning
  • 70 percent of entrapments occur on farmland
  • 45 percent of reported entrapments involve corn
  • Permit required confined spaces are the leading cause of multiple fatalities on the job

Comprehensive Confined Space Procedures and Training
How can these incidents be avoided? Through comprehensive confined space training.

Dan Neenan, NECAS director, stresses that grain bin safety can't be overemphasized.

"Some bins are covered by OSHA rules, but on the family farm, where OSHA is not covering, it's important for those folks to know the proper procedure when entering into a bin," Neenan explained in an article on entrapment hazards.

Neenan added that 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.

Confined Space Safety Tips
With National Farm Safety and Health Week kicking off, here are a few confined space safety tips to reduce the chances of enclosures and entrapments:

  • Enforce an Age Limit and Training Requirements
    Farm employment labor laws vary depending on the state and the type of tasks involved. In Arizona, for example, employees must be at least 14 years of age outside of school hours and 16 when classes are in session. In California, however, the minimum ages are 16 and 18, respectively. Regardless, the universal rule for confined spaces should be no entry allowed for anyone under 18, and even those over the age of 18 should have confined space training.
  • Comply with All OSHA Regulations
    OSHA's website is a comprehensive, all-in-one location to obtain documentation and specifics on how to avoid confined space casualties. These include an OSHA confined space definition, details on standards and enforcement as well as solutions to hazards before they manifest themselves. For instance, it's important to label and identify locations that store a large amount of grain or other agriculture-related material, including silos, corrugated steel bins, fermentation vessels, dump pits and grain driers.
  • Check Air Quality of Storage Bins
    Certain grains in large quantities can emit noxious fumes when enclosed, a problem that intensifies should there be decomposition. Performing air quality testing on a regular basis can help ensure enough oxygen is available at any given time. Oxygen concentrations of 19.5 percent or lower may be hazardous. This makes proper ventilation pivotal. Workers entering spaces that are not properly ventilated should be provided and trained on the use of respirators – and these respirators must be tested regularly to confirm they are in proper working order.
  • Use a Written Confined Space Entry System
    There should be a step-by-step procedure that lays out, in writing, how confined spaces are to be entered and exited. Ensuring workers are familiar with these procedures - and follow them to the letter - is key to their well-being and for compliance purposes.
  • Have an Emergency Plan of Action in Place
    Even when all the rules are followed, it doesn't guarantee accidents won't happen. Given this, develop an emergency response system so the proper procedures can go into motion as soon as they're needed. Emergency plans should be reviewed and updated so all workers understand their role.
  • Use Labels, Signs or Tags to Warn and Remind Workers of Training Procedures
    Clear, concise and compliant labels and signage for confined spaces are critical. All the training in the world can go out the window in a moment if a worker isn't aware of the dangers they are facing. Particularly for bi-lingual or non-English speaking workers, ensuring all labeling and signage has simple, direct language – combined with pictorials clearly showing the hazards of a confined space – can be the difference between life and death.

Your Partner for Farm Safety Compliance
Risks are a reality in the agricultural industry, but by adhering to basic, common sense principles and clear communication, confined space and other farming-related hazards can be avoided. Clarion Safety has a full line of standards compliant safety signs and labels to alert your workers to dangers. If you’re looking for a custom option, get in touch with our service team, who’s trained to design safety visuals that are suited to your unique needs.