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Safe work practices in grain handling facilities can save lives

Oct 31, 2013

Grain storage bin entry is very dangerous and exposes workers to serious suffocation hazards - a leading cause of fatalities on the farm. Suffocation can occur when workers are engulfed (buried or covered) by grain or when bins develop hazardous atmospheres or a lack of oxygen.

There are four senarios. In Figure 1, flowing grain can bury a worker in seconds. In Figure 2, a "bridging" condition results in engulfment. In Figure 3, Accumulation on the a bin side results in engulfment. Figure 4 illustrates a successful rescue of a worker during a "bridging" condition.Engulfment can occur when a worker does the following: 

  • Stands on moving/flowing grain (see figure 1). The moving grain acts like "quicksand" and buries the worker in seconds. 
  • Stands on or below a "bridging" condition (see figure 2). "Bridging" occurs when grain clumps together, because of moisture or mold, creating an empty space beneath the grain as it is unloaded. If a worker stands on or below the "bridged" grain, it can collapse, either under the worker’s weight or unexpectedly, thus, burying the worker. 
  • Stands next to an accumulated pile of grain on the side of the bin (see figure 3). The grain pile can collapse onto the worker unexpectedly or when the worker attempts to dislodge it. 

The grain’s behavior and weight make it extremely difficult for a worker to get out of the grain without assistance. Tragically, incidents in grain bins often result in multiple fatalities because coworkers attempt rescue and fall victim as well. These fatalities are preventable if employers follow work practices and provide training and equipment as required by OSHA’s Inspection of Grain Handling Facilities standard, 29 CFR 1910.272. 

Where workers enter storage bins, employers must: 

  • De-energize (turn off) and disconnect, lockout and tag, or block off all mechanical, electrical, hydraulic and pneumatic equipment that presents a danger, particularly grain-moving equipment. Grain must not be emptied or moved into or out of the bin while workers are inside because it creates a suction that can pull the worker into the grain in seconds. 
  • Prohibit walking down grain and similar practices where a worker walks on grain to make it flow. 
  • Prohibit entry onto or below a bridging condition, or where grain is built up on the side of the bin.


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