Learn & Live: Grain industry hazards lead to deaths, injuries each year
OSHA, Wisconsin Agri-Business Association work together to promote safe practices
MADISON, Wis. – 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 have been reported with a fatality rate of 62 percent, according to researchers at Purdue University in Indiana.
In Wisconsin, one worker was killed in a grain engulfment in Milton, in April. Another was injured in 2010 in Burlington, when he became engulfed in soybeans.
In 2010, at least 26 U.S. workers were killed in grain engulfments, the highest number on record, led the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration to reach out to the agricultural and grain handling industries to find ways to prevent deaths and injuries. OSHA also developed a Local Emphasis Program for Grain Handling Facilities focusing on the grain and feed industry's six major hazards. These include engulfment, falls, auger entanglement, "struck by," combustible dust explosions and electrocution hazards.
"OSHA is working hard to change the 'it won't happen to me' mindset," said Nick Walters, 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.
OSHA and the Wisconsin Agri-Business Association entered into an alliance in 2012. The WABA represents more than 320 members engaged in agricultural businesses across the state. As part of the alliance, OSHA and WABA representatives meet quarterly to discuss projects to educate and inform employers on grain handling and other work place safety topics. To date, webinars have been held discussing confined space entry, fall hazards, as well as engulfment and other grain handling safety concerns.
The University of Wisconsin Extension's Agricultural Safety Specialist and Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin have also agreed to include information on grain handling safety in their newsletter and on their websites and information has been provided to agricultural cooperatives and agricultural business instructors at state technical colleges and insurance companies to increase awareness of grain handling safety.
"This alliance is an opportunity for OSHA to work together with the grain and agricultural industries and the agricultural community to train employers and workers about the unique hazards of the grain and feed industry," said Walters. "Through training, decals, brochures, websites, and other means of information communication, we will continue to work to improve awareness of these hazards and the safety and health of workers on Wisconsin farms and in grain handling facilities. We are committed to preventing the injuries and deaths that have been too frequent in the industry in recent years."
OSHA, the Grain and Feed Association of Illinois and the Illinois Grain Handling Safety Coalition have also developed a stop sign decal to adhere to grain bin doors using pictures and short phrases reminding entrants to lockout potentially hazardous equipment, stay clear of waist high grain, cover floor holes and to follow other best practices. Individuals or companies can email the Grain and Feed Association of Illinois at firstname.lastname@example.org to request the decal, which is pictured above.
OSHA has also 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/index.html. OSHA's Grain Bin LEP is used in 25 states.
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 exist 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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U.S. Department of Labor news materials are accessible at http://www.dol.gov. The information above is available in large print, Braille, audio tape or disc from the COAST office upon request by calling 202-693-7828 or TTY 202-693-7755.