October 12, 2016
As fall's harvest arrives, OSHA urges grain-handling industry
to be vigilant to stem a tide of recent tragedies, and near disasters
Agency offers assistance, other information on safety, health hazards
KANSAS CITY, Mo.: Five seconds is all it takes for flowing grain to engulf and trap a worker. In 60 seconds, the worker is submerged and is in serious danger of death by suffocation. More than half of all workers engulfed in grain die this way. Many others suffer permanent disability.
An "engulfment" often happens when "bridged" grain and vertical piles of stored grain collapse unexpectedly. Engulfments may occur when employees work on or near the pile or when bin augers whirl causing the grain to buckle and fall onto the worker. The density, weight and unpredictable behavior of flowing grains make it nearly impossible for workers to rescue themselves without help.
Since January 2016, Nebraska and Kansas' grain-handling industry has had two fatalities and four preventable work-related incidents.
As Midwestern farmers reap this year's harvest, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration urges industry employers and workers to fully implement safety and health programs including procedures for controlling hazardous energy, safe bin entry and housekeeping to avoid additional tragedies. OSHA's Grain Handling Industry Local Emphasis Program focuses on the grain and feed industry's six major hazards: engulfment, falls, auger entanglement, "struck by," combustible dust explosions and electrocution hazards.
"Far too many preventable incidents continue to occur in the grain-handling industry," said Kim Stille, OSHA's regional administrator in Kansas City. "Every employee working in the grain industry must be trained on grain-handling hazards and given the tools to ensure they do not enter a bin or silo without required safety equipment. They must also take all necessary precautions - this includes using lifelines, testing the atmosphere inside a bin and turning off and locking out all powered equipment to prevent restarting before entering grain storage structures."
In 2016, OSHA has opened investigations of the following grain industry fatalities and incidents:
- March 16, 2016: A 42-year-old superintendent at Cooperative Producers Inc.'s Hayland grain-handling site in Prosser, Nebraska, suffered fatal injuries caused by an operating auger as he drew grain from a bin. OSHA cited the company on Sept. 9, 2016, for three egregious willful and three serious violations and placed the company in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program. The company has contested those citations. See news release here.
- March 22, 2016: A 21-year-old worker found himself trapped in a soybean bin, but escaped serious injury at The Farmer's Cooperative Association in Conway Springs, Kansas. Rescue crews were able to remove the worker and he was treated and released at a local hospital. On June 2, 2016, OSHA cited the company for 13 serious violations. See citations here.
- March 25, 2016: A 51-year- employee was trapped in a grain bin at McPherson County Feeders in Marquette, Kansas. Emergency crews were able to rescue him. OSHA cited the company for four serious violations on April 14, 2016. See citations here.
- May 19, 2016: A 53-year-old male employee at Prinz Grain and Feed suffered severe injuries on May 18, 2016, as he worked in a grain bin in West Point, Nebraska. The maintenance worker was in a grain bin when a wall of corn product collapsed and engulfed him. He died of his injuries two days later.
- Sept. 1, 2016: A 59-year-old employee suffered severe injuries to his leg when the sweep auger inside a bin at Trotter Grain in Litchfield, Nebraska, caught his coveralls.
- Sept. 19, 2016: A 28-year-old employee of the Ellsworth Co-Op in Ellsworth, Kansas, had his left leg amputated when he stepped into an open auger well inside a grain bin while the auger was running.
In 2015, the industry reported 22 grain-entrapment cases nationwide. Of those, 4 percent occurred in commercial grain facilities and 82 percent occurred on farms exempt from OSHA compliance. In 2010, 51 workers found themselves engulfed by grain stored in bins, and 26 died - the highest number on record - researchers at Indiana's Purdue University found. Purdue also reported that - of the more than 900 cases of grain engulfments reported since 1966 - 62 percent resulted in worker deaths.
In its effort to protect workers and educate the industry, OSHA has worked with leaders in the agri-business community to raise awareness of grain-handling hazards.
Most recently, Omaha Area Director Jeff Funke spoke at the National Grain and Feed Association and Assistant Area Director Darwin Craig spoke at the Nebraska Grain and Feed Association, both in August 2016.
"It is vital that we work with leaders, farmers and those employed in the grain and feed industry to increase awareness of hazards in the grain industry and discuss ways to protect workers on the job," Funke said. "In our presentation to the NGFA, we were able to reach about 5,000 employees on a national level. Through education, training and common sense safety procedures we can prevent workplace injuries and deaths in the grain industry."
In the last year, OSHA Wichita Area Office presented at the Kansas Grain and Feed Associations' Grain Handlers training program in Garden City and in Salina, presented information to the KFSA grain elevator owners and managers in Kansas City on the most frequently found hazards in the grain industry, and presented to the Grain Elevator Processing Society in Salina.
"Grain dust accumulation must be controlled to prevent a fuel source in bins from igniting in proximity to operating conveyors, augers and other equipment. OSHA grain handling standards address the numerous serious and life threatening hazards found in grain bins including grain dust explosions, engulfment and entrapment from flowing grain, falls and amputation hazards," said Judy Freeman, OSHA's area director in Wichita. "These common sense safety standards protect workers on the job in this hazardous industry."
To ask questions, obtain compliance assistance, file a complaint, or report workplace hospitalizations, fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to workers, the public should call OSHA's toll-free hotline at 800-321-OSHA (6742).
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's role is to ensure these conditions for America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.
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Valuing your worker’s safety and well-being are ideas that most can agree on being crucial for company success within dangerous industries such as Grain Handling. Part of my job is updating our Twitter Feed and keeping an eye out for industry news via shared stories and retweets by some of the most credible sources in the material handling industries. Recently, I have been seeing numerous stories about grain entrapment accidents and can’t help but wonder, why does this keep occurring when preventive measures are available? Safety and Health Topics on OSHA’s website can prove to be rather helpful and a great reference to industry procedures, so I started there in my quest to compile this list.
- Provide Proper Dust Collection Equipment Within Your Facilities – Did you know that over the past 35 years, there have been over 500 explosions within Grain Handling Facilities across the U.S. and have killed more than 180 people? This piece of equipment comes in a variety of designs which allows for you to choose the best option for your facility (Manufacturers such as Aerodyne can provide help here) . Applying vibration to your dust collector can offer the proper dust dislodging technique to help provide better safety for your crew. We too, have many vibratory solutions that can help with proper upkeep of dust collection equipment.
- Properly Choose Location of Your Dust Collection Equipment – All filter collectors that have been installed after March 1988, should be located outside of your facility. This will help to reduce explosion hazards. If your piece of equipment is located within your facility, it should be protected by an explosion suppression system.
- Utilize Proper Vibratory Equipment for Grain Storage Bins – Suffocation is the leading cause of death in grain storage bins. It takes 5 seconds or less for a worker to be completely engulfed while they are trying to unclog the “bridged” grain. The behavior and weight of the grain creates a quicksand-like rotation, making extremely difficult for a worker to escape without assistance in many cases. Using an Air Piston Vibrator, such as Cleveland Vibrator’s VMSAC or SI Single impactor, on the sides of your storage bin can help reduce the need for bin/hopper entry.
- Power Down Any Excess Equipment Pieces Associated with Bin – Whether it be pneumatic, electric, hydraulic, or mechanical, any piece of equipment that is moving grain heightens the chances of engulfments since it could create a suction of the material pulling your worker into the grain in the matter of seconds.
- Provide All Employees with a Safety Harness – This harness should be connected to a lifeline and employees must wear this harness when the need to enter a bin should arise.
- Implement Preventive Maintenance Programs – Be sure to regularly schedule inspections of your mechanical and safety control pieces of equipment. When it comes to your Vibratory Equipment, Cleveland Vibrator can provide field tips and also evaluate your vibratory drives or equipment. You can learn more from Glen Roberts, our Senior Expert in Vibratory Units who has explained in recent blogs the importance of Vibratory Unit upkeep. This measure helps to maintain the highest level of safety precautions if utilized properly. Using equipment that is not up-to-date with current safety codes can prove to be a critical mistake which makes the odds of an accident greater within your facility.