Grain industry hazards lead to deaths, injuries each year
Five seconds. That is how quickly a worker can become engulfed in flowing grain and be unable to get out.
Sixty seconds. That is how quickly a worker can be completely submerged in flowing grain. More than half of all grain engulfments result in death by suffocation.
In the past 50 years, more than 900 cases of grain engulfment at worksites and family farms have been reported with a fatality rate of 62 percent, according to researchers at Purdue University in Indiana.
In 2010, due to an increasing amount of worker fatalities in this industry, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reached out to the Minnesota Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MNOSHA) and related agricultural and grain-handling industries to find ways to prevent deaths and injuries.
MNOSHA conducts compliance inspections and offers outreach to grain-handling facilities as part of its 2009 through 2013 strategic plan. Since 2009, MNOSHA has conducted almost 100 grain facility inspections. There have been no Minnesota grain-handling workplace fatalities in the past five years.
Federal OSHA also developed a local emphasis inspection program for grain-handling facilities, which focused on the grain and feed industry's six major hazards. These include engulfment, falling, auger entanglement, being struck by, combustible-dust explosion and electrocution hazard.
"OSHA is working hard to change the 'it won't happen to me' mindset," said Nick Walters, U.S. Department of Labor OSHA Regional Administrator for six Midwestern states. "Grain-handling injuries and deaths can be prevented if employers follow proper safety procedures."
Suffocation can occur when a worker becomes buried by grain as they walk on moving grain or attempt to clear grain built up on the inside of a bin. Moving grain acts like quicksand and can bury a worker in seconds. "Bridged" grain and vertical piles of stored grain can also collapse unexpectedly if a worker stands on or near it. The behavior and weight of the grain make it extremely difficult for a worker to get out of it without assistance.
MNOSHA also participates each year with the Minnesota Grain and Feed Association at its operations, maintenance and safety workshop to promote awareness of grain-industry hazards.
"MNOSHA is working with the grain and agricultural industries and the agricultural community to educate employers and workers about the unique hazards of the grain and feed industry," said James Krueger, Director, MNOSHA Compliance. "We continue to work to improve awareness of these hazards and the safety and health of workers on Minnesota farms and in grain-handling facilities. We are committed to preventing injuries and deaths."
MNOSHA inspection data, grain-handling safety information and an alert about grain-handling hazards are online at www.dli.mn.gov/OSHA/GrainHandling.asp.
Federal OSHA has published information related to common grain-industry hazards and abatement methods, proper bin entry techniques, sweep auger use and many other grain related topics at www.osha.gov/SLTC/grainhandling. OSHA's grain bin local emphasis plan is used in 25 states.