According to federal safety regulators, suffocation from engulfment in grain is the leading cause of death in U.S. grain bins. But despite past efforts to draw awareness to this danger, the number of suffocation deaths in grain facilities continues to rise.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has launched a new campaign to drive down the number of grain bin suffocation deaths. This program, called “Stand-Up for Grain Engulfment Prevention” – aims to unite employers and workers in enhancing worker protections, reducing injuries, and preventing grain-engulfment fatalities.
A record 51 grain engulfment incidents were reported to OSHA in 2010, killing 26 workers.
Suffocation occurs when workers literally drown in grain, often by losing their footing within a silo or other grain storage facility and falling into the grain or by attempting to walk on the grain. “Bridged” grain and vertical piles of stored grain may also collapse unexpectedly and submerge workers.
Grain acts much like quicksand and can bury a worker in just seconds. It is also just as difficult to quicksand to get out of without assistance.
OSHA has mailed notification letters to about 13,000 grain facility operators warning them to bar workers from entering grain storage facilities without the proper equipment, precautions (such as turning off and locking/tagging out all equipment), and training.
The agency also helps employers organize what it calls a “safety stand down,” an event in which employers talk directly with workers about safety and accident prevention. Employers typically arrange a break in work activity to conduct a safety stand down.
Although OSHA’s safety campaign emphasizes grain engulfment dangers, it wants workers to be aware of other hazards that grain facilities pose, such as grain dust explosions, which occur when a fire or heat source meet highly combustible concentrations of airborne grain dust and ignite.
Falls from high working and walking surfaces are also a common hazard in grain handling facilities, resulting in dozens of deaths and injuries every year.
Mechanical equipment within grain storage facilities, such as augers and conveyors, present serious entanglement and amputation hazards. Workers can, and frequently do, get their limbs caught in improperly guarded moving parts of such mechanical equipment.
Another threat in grain handling facilities is the development of hazardous gases given off from spoiling grain or fumigation. Workers may be exposed to unhealthy levels of airborne contaminants, including molds, chemical fumigants (toxic chemicals), and gases associated with decaying and fermenting silage.