OSHA News Release - (Archived) Table of Contents|
The death of a young man in a corn storage structure in Florida has prompted the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to revise its standard for protecting almost 250,000 workers at 24,000 grain elevators and mills.
OSHA today issued a final rule revising the standard to ensure greater protection for workers against hazards of being engulfed by grain or being entrapped when mechanical equipment is used to move the grain.
The rule revision was set in motion following the death of 19-year-old Patrick Hayes, who was walking across the structure filled with grain when he was pulled down into the grain and suffocated.
Hayes' father, Ron, of Fairhope, Ala. met with Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich and Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Joseph A. Dear last October.
Secretary Reich said today, "The tragic death of this young man and his father's untiring efforts to make sense out of that senseless death led to what we are doing today. We hope that these changes will avert such tragedies in the future."
Ron Hayes not only spent considerable time trying to determine the cause of the accident, but quit his job to become a tireless advocate of workplace safety. He organized a nonprofit organization called FIGHT (Families in Grief Hold Together) to provide guidance to families who have lost a loved one in a workplace accident.
Dear said today, "The OSHA investigation of Patrick Hayes' death revealed the need to clarify the original intent of the grain handling standard. These changes provide that clarification."
Among other things, the revised standard specifically prohibits the practice of "walking down" grain to make it flow within or out from a grain storage structure. OSHA noted that this is an extremely dangerous practice that exposes an employee to an ever-increasing risk of engulfment as grain is eroded from underneath the surface layer.
The revised standard requires a harness with a lifeline or a boatswain's chair to provide protection whenever an employee walks or stands on grain at a depth that poses an engulfment hazard. If this is not feasible, the employer is to provide an alternative means to prevent the employee from sinking further than waist-deep in the grain.
The tragic incident involving Patrick Hayes occurred Oct. 22, 1993, when he and two other employees were instructed to enter a Showell Farms, Inc., corn storage structure in De Funiak Springs, Fla., to walk down the corn. The workers entered the facility not at the top, but through an opening several feet above the ground.
The three men walked down the corn while an auger at the base of the structure was running. At one point, Patrick Hayes sank into the corn up to his knees. The two other workers tried to pull him out, but he kept sinking as the corn began to avalanche, covering him and pushing in the direction of the auger. One co-worker left to shut off the auger while the other continued to try to pull him from the corn. Rescue efforts were unsuccessful.
Provisions in OSHA's grain-handling standard had protected employees from hazards while walking on or underneath accumulations of grain within a grain storage facility.
However, it did not apply to employees entering "flat storage buildings or tanks" unless entry is made from the top of the structure. OSHA intended the exception to apply only to entries that did not expose the employees to atmospheric, engulfment or entrapment hazards.
The standard had assumed that hazards from entry into flat storage structures only arise when the entry is made from the top, because employees who enter in that manner would do so in order to stand or walk on the stored grain. The text of the standard did not directly address situations in which the same hazards would be encountered during entries from lower levels. In the seven years since the original standard was issued, OSHA has learned that many entries take place from such levels lower than the top of the structure in facilities with dimensions of greater diameter than height.
In the Hayes incident, because entry was not made from the top of the structure, questions arose later whether the Showell farms structure was a flat storage building as defined in the original standard.
The revision will provide employees entering flat storage facilities with protection against entrapment, engulfment and mechanical hazards, regardless of their point of entry.
The definition of a "flat storage structure" also was clarified. It is defined as a grain storage building or structure that will not empty completely by gravity, has an unrestricted ground level opening for entry, and must be entered to reclaim the residual grain, using powered equipment or manual means.
The revised standard also requires that all mechanical, electrical, and pneumatic equipment that presents a danger to employees inside grain storage structures shall be deenergized and disconnected, locked-out and tagged, blocked-off, or otherwise stopped by other equally effective means or methods.
The final rule is published in the Friday, March 8, 1996 Federal Register and becomes effective April 8, 1996.
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