But many farms are exempt from OSHA regulations. According to Purdue, 69 percent of entrapments in 2010 occurred on exempt farms; the rest occurred at commercial facilities that must comply with OSHA regulations. The industry has sought to educate farmers on proper safety procedures. In February, the National Grain and Feed Association and the National Corn Growers Association released a video promoting grain bin safety awareness on farms.
“Statistics show that 92 percent of victims who become fully engulfed – which can happen in a matter of seconds – do not survive,” NGFA President Kendell Keith said in a press release announcing the video. “People need to become more aware of the hazards.”
When workers enter storage bins, OSHA has several requirements that must be followed, including:
Lockout/tagout to ensure grain is not emptied or moved into or out of the bin while workers are inside.
Prohibit “walking down” grain.
Prohibit entry onto or below a “bridging” condition.
Employees should use a body harness with a lifeline or a boatswain’s chair whenever they walk or stand on stored grain.
Establish an observer to provide assistance in rescue operations, and ensure communications between the observer and worker in the bin are maintained.
Before entering a bin, test the air inside for oxygen content and the presence of hazardous gases.
In recent months, OSHA has issued major penalties to various grain facility operators for alleged violations related to storage bin hazards.
$1.6 million – The South Dakota Wheat Growers Association of Aberdeen, SD, was fined in the aftermath of a worker’s Dec. 22, 2009, engulfment and suffocation. Five other workers were at risk of being engulfed in the rescue attempt.
$1.6 million – Tempel Grain Elevators LLP was fined for the May 29, 2009, engulfment and suffocation of a teen worker at the company’s Haswell, CO, facility.
$729,000 – The August 2010 corn engulfment of a 49-year-old worker at Hillsdale Elevator Co.’s Geneseo, IL, facility led to additional violations found at its Annawan, IL, facility.
$721,000 – At Cooperative Plus Inc.’s facility in Burlington, WI, a worker was buried up to his chest in frozen soybeans in February 2010. He was rescued four hours later.
$550,000 – Two teen workers died and a 20-year-old employee was seriously injured while “walking down the corn” at Haasbach LLC’s Mount Carroll, IL, facility in July 2010.
$465,500 – A 20-year-old worker was caught in a discharge auger while cleaning out a grain bin at Gavilon Grain LLC’s Morral, OH, facility in September 2010. The death prompted inspections and fines at two other Gavilon facilities in Ohio.