- Standard Number:
OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at https://www.osha.gov.
September 29, 2008
Mr. Rick Smithpeter
Director of Risk Services
Cooperative Mutual Insurance Company
3905 S. 148th Street
Omaha, Nebraska 68144
Dear Mr. Smithpeter:
Thank you for your January 23, 2008 letter to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regarding the grain handling facilities standard at 29 CFR 1910.272. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation only of the requirements discussed and may not be applicable to any questions not delineated within your original correspondence. We apologize for the delay in our response. Your paraphrased scenario, questions, and our responses are provided below.
Question 1: The note to 29 CFR 1910.272(g)(2) states: "when the employee is standing or walking on a surface which the employer demonstrates is free from engulfment hazards, the lifeline or alternative means may be disconnected or removed." Does this imply that if the employer can demonstrate that there are no engulfment hazards, then the employer can allow the employee to remove his/her harness and lifeline?
Response 1: Yes. You must note, however, that standing or walking on the grain has been demonstrated to be a source of hazards to workers. To meet the exception provided in the associated note, employers must not allow employees to walk or work on the surface of the grain until the employer has verified that engulfment hazards do not exist as a result of a bridging condition, air pocket or void space below the surface of the grain or that the depth of grain is not sufficient to present an engulfment hazard in the specific bin, silo or tank. Probe tests sufficient to detect any air pockets or void spaces may be one way to assess the stability of the grain surface. However, if a worker must stay on the grain to conduct such tests, the worker must be protected from engulfment during the tests.
Scenario: The second issue raised in your letter addressed OSHA's standard at 29 CFR 1910.272(g)(1)(ii), which provides:
All mechanical, electrical, hydraulic, and pneumatic equipment which presents a danger to employees inside grain storage structures shall be deenergized and shall be disconnected, locked-out and tagged, blocked-off, or otherwise prevented from operating by other equally effective means or methods.
Also, OSHA's standard at 29 CFR 1910.23(a)(5) provides:
Every pit and trapdoor floor opening, infrequently used, shall be guarded by a floor opening cover of standard strength. While the cover is not in place, the pit or trap shall be constantly attended by someone or shall be protected on exposed sides by removable standard railings.
Sweep augers are installed at the floor level of grain storage structures to help move grain from the periphery of the structure to the central discharge point. You indicated in your letter that sweep augers attach to a center pivot point that is usually located in an open pit or sump that provides access to the recovery conveyor that removes grain and foreign matter from the bin. The open sump can range from 18 inches to 4 feet deep or from 18 inches to 4 feet in length or diameter, although most sumps are square. You also indicate that, by design, sweep augers do not have a grating covering them.
In your letter, you enclosed "Procedures For Employees Working in Grain Storage Areas While Equipment is Operating (Sweep Augers)." The procedures state that employees must stay six feet behind any partially-guarded or unguarded energized equipment in grain storage areas. If employees must work closer than six feet, the employee must implement positive procedures to assure the equipment is de-energized and there will be no chance of unexpected start-up (i.e., lock-out/tag-out). The procedures also state that an observer shall maintain direct visual contact of all employees working in grain storage areas at all times while equipment is operating. The observer shall be located at the doorway of bins being emptied and shall have control of the on/off switch.
Question 2: Can employees operate the sweep auger if the sump is not being protected by a grating or other similar protection? Does Section 1910.23(a)(5) mean that, as long as the employer assures that the pit or sump is "constantly attended by someone" while the employee is in the grain bin running the sweep auger, the sweep auger need not have a cover or removable standard railings (which would make it impossible to run)?
Response 2: As noted above, OSHA's standard at 29 CFR 1910.272(g)(1)(ii) provides that, before employees enter grain storage structures, equipment which presents a danger to employees must be deenergized, and "disconnected, locked-out and tagged, blocked-off, or otherwise prevented from operating by equally effective means or measures." The standard is not intended to be a prohibition against employees entering grain storage structures while machinery is running. Instead, employees may enter such facilities while machinery is running if the employer can demonstrate that appropriate protection has been provided to prevent employees from being exposed to the hazards/dangers of the moving machinery.
An obvious example of an effective method in protecting employees from the hazards associated with machinery inside grain storage structures would be machine guarding. Another example of an effective method might include a rope positioning system, based on the length of rope tied to an employee and installed inside the storage bin, which would prevent the employee from being exposed to the hazards presented by the moving machinery of a sweep auger. On the other hand, because they may not protect employees from the hazards associated with mechanized sweep augers, use of a boatswain chair would not be considered an "equally effective means or method" under Section 1910.272(g)(1)(ii). Additionally, please keep in mind that regardless of whether an employer does or does not implement "other equally effective means or methods," Section 1910.272(e)(2) requires employers to provide employees entering grain storage structures with training on mechanical hazards and how to avoid them.
The procedures for sweep augers enclosed in your letter would not be considered by OSHA as "other equally effective means or methods" as set forth in 1910.272(g)(1)(ii). First, because of the possibility for uneven or moving grain inside grain storage structures, there is a potential for employees to slip and fall on partially-guarded or unguarded moving machinery parts (such as a sweep auger). Second, because of possible poor visibility (e.g., from poor lighting) inside grain storage facilities, employees may have difficulty estimating distances from, or not seeing at all, moving machinery parts. As such, OSHA does not consider maintaining a distance of six feet from partially-guarded or unguarded energized equipment in grain storage structures as an "otherwise equally effective means or method" provided by the standard. Lastly, the reliance on an observer with control of an on/off switch for energized equipment creates a potential for human error and is not a positive method of protecting employees from exposure to hazards in grain storage structures. As indicated in the example above, an equally effective method might include a rope positioning system, which would physically prevent the employee from entering the area where they could be exposed to the hazards associated by moving machinery of a sweep auger.
Finally, you also enclosed in your letter a September 30, 1996, memorandum from Mr. Thomas H. Seymour, Acting Director, Directorate of Safety Standards Programs, to Sandra J. Taylor, Acting Regional Administrator, OSHA Region V, which addressed 29 CFR 1910.272(g)(1)(ii) with respect to whether employees may enter a bin when machines are running. We were not able to determine the origins of the memorandum enclosed in your letter. Memorandums of this type are normally issued by OSHA's Directorate of Enforcement Programs (previously Directorate of Compliance Programs in 1996), and are considered to be in "draft" form until signed and issued by the referenced individual. Please note that the contents of this unsigned memorandum do not reflect official OSHA policy.
Thank you for your interest in occupational safety and health. OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards, and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at http://www.osha.gov. If you need further assistance, please contact the Office of General Industry Enforcement at (202) 693-1850.
Richard E. Fairfax, Director
Directorate of Enforcement Programs