Mitigating the Risks of Grain Handling

OSHA’s webpage on grain handling is designed to provide workers, employers, and safety and health professionals with up-to-date safety and health information regarding grain handling facilities.

Fires, explosions, suffocation, engulfment, entrapment, falls from heights, amputation, and even death—these are the most notable safety and health risks most common in grain handling facilities. Luckily, OSHA recognizes the importance of industry-specific safety measures. Read the OSHA ­webpage on risks and prevention tips for grain handling facilities.

The webpage answers some of people’s most frequently asked questions including: what are grain handling facilities, what are the hazards of grain handling facilities, and what can be done to reduce hazards in grain facilities?

Grain handling facilities are pretty much what they sound like: facilities that receive, handle, store, process, and ship bulk raw agricultural commodities like corn, wheat, oats, barley, sunflower seeds and soybeans. These facilities use equipment like grain elevators, feed mills, flour mills, rice mills, dust pelletizing plants, dry corn mills, soybean flaking operations, and dry grinding operations of soycake.

The grain handling industry is considered a high hazard industry where worker safety is at a high threat. The most common serious and life-threatening hazards include: fires and explosions from grain dust accumulation, suffocation from engulfment and entrapment in grain bins, falls from heights and crushing injuries and amputations from grain handling equipment.

In terms of death, suffocation is the leading cause among grain handling workers. Suffocation can happen when a worker is buried (engulfed) by grain as they walk on moving grain or attempt to clean grain built up on the inside of a bin. Moving grain can act like “quicksand” and bury a worker in seconds.

Grain dust explosions are also a serious hazard, and it is the main source of fuel for explosions in the industry. It is highly combustible and can burn or explode if it becomes airborne or accumulates on a surface and finds an ignition source such as hot bearing, overheated motor, misaligned conveyor belt, welding, cutting, and brazing. For these reasons, OSHA mandates that both grain dust and ignition sources be controlled in grain elevators to prevent these often-deadly explosions.

Falls from height are also a common injury in the grain handling industry. Many incidents occur from walking/working surfaces such as floors, machinery, structures, roofs, skylights, unguarded holes, wall and floor openings, ladders, unguarded catwalks, platforms, and manlifts. Falls can also occur as workers move from the vertical exterior ladders on grain bins to the bin roof or through a bin entrance.

Entanglement or amputation hazards come with common mechanical equipment in grain storage structures, such as augers and conveyors. Workers’ limbs can easily get caught if the machinery is not properly guarded.

Lastly, handling grain can put workers at risk for ingestion of a number of toxic gases and contaminants including molds, chemical fumigants (toxic chemicals), and gases associated with decaying and fermenting silage. Exposure to these materials can cause a number of health issues like nervous system damage, heart and vascular disease, and lung edema.

Reducing the hazards of grain handlings for worker safety can involve a number of steps. OSHA’s webpage lists a number, but some of the most notable include:

  • Provide all employees a body harness with a lifeline, and ensure it is secured prior to the employee entering the bin.
  • Train all workers for the specific hazardous work operations they are to performs when entering and working inside of grain bins.
  • Develop and implement a written housekeeping program with instructions to reduce dust accumulations on ledges, floors, equipment and other exposed surfaces.
  • Design and properly locate dust collection systems to minimize explosion hazards.

For more information, read the OSHA standard (29 CFR 1910.272).

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