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Aug. 17, 2011
Contact: Office of Communications
Phone: 202-693-1999

OSHA issues hazard alerts on dangers of worker engulfment and
suffocation in grain bins

WASHINGTON – The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued a Hazard Alert and an illustrated hazard wallet card explaining the dangers of working inside grain storage bins. Grain handling is a high hazard industry where workers can be exposed to serious and life threatening hazards such as suffocation from engulfment and entrapment, fires and explosions from grain dust accumulation, falls from heights and crushing injuries and amputations from grain handling equipment. According to a report issued by Purdue University, in 2010, 51 workers were engulfed by grain stored in bins and 26 died - the highest number on record.

"Suffocation from engulfment is the leading cause of death in grain bins and the number of tragedies continues to climb," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. "They can be avoided if owners and operators use well-known safety measures that are proven to prevent workers from being killed or seriously injured."

Grain bins are used to store bulk raw agricultural commodities such as corn, wheat and oats. Workers entering bins can be engulfed and suffocate if they stand on moving or flowing grain, which acts like "quicksand" and pulls workers under. Such was the case in June when three workers were killed in one week after they were buried in grain.

Workers can also suffocate if they enter bins that don't have enough oxygen or contain hazardous atmospheres. Incidents in grain bins often result in multiple deaths because workers attempt to rescue their coworkers and become trapped as well.

The Hazard Alert describes how workers may become engulfed in grain bins and lists the precautions that employers must take under OSHA's Grain Handling Facility standard to protect workers. Precautions include disconnecting equipment that presents a danger; prohibiting workers from walking on the grain to make it flow; providing workers with personal protective and rescue equipment; and requiring an observer outside the bin who can perform rescue operations. The wallet hazard card is an abbreviated version of the bulletin and highlights the precautions that employers must take to ensure that workers are safe when entering storage bins. Drawings illustrate how quickly a worker can become entrapped in grain.

Information on required safety practices and controls for preventing worker injuries and deaths in grain facilities is available on OSHA's Safety and Health Topics page on Grain Handling and the Grain Handling Facilities regulation.

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


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