U.S. regulations designed to make grain industry workplace conditions safer have achieved their objective, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration said in a recently released report.
Since OSHA’s Grain Handling Facilities Standard went into effect in 1987, the agency said industry fatalities have dropped 70%, and 55% fewer injuries have occurred from explosions at grain handling facilities. The number of suffocations at grain warehouses also has declined 44%.
The safety standards focus on specific requirements for controlling grain fires, grain-dust explosions and hazards posed by bins, silos and tanks at grain mills and grain elevators.
OSHA also said its five-year regulatory review of the standard shows that implementing it has not had a negative effect on the industry or on small businesses within the grain industry.
"In this case, the review showed that the standard is helping to save lives," said John Henshaw, an OSHA administrator.
However, OSHA said it soon will issue clarifications and contemplate possible improvements to the standard. Those clarifications likely will include whether confined space requirements in the standard should apply to all areas of grain facilities currently covered by another standard, called the Confined Spaces Standard.
OSHA said it also will consider updating references to the National Fire Protection Association requirements included in the grain-handling standard.
Randy Gordon, a spokesman with the National Grain and Feed Association, said the cost of implementing OSHA’s standard may have affected some individual firms financially.
Nonetheless, he said the standard has benefited the overall U.S. grain industry.
"On balance, we believe that the standard has contributed to an improved safety environment in the grain industry," Gordon said.
At the same time, Gordon said the standard is not the only reason grain industry safety conditions have improved while deaths and injuries have declined.
After a series of deadly explosions in the mid-1970s, the industry launched a series of initiatives and research projects aimed at reducing workplace hazards at grain warehouses.
Between 1977 and the mid-1980s, Gordon said the grain industry spent about U.S.$5 million and conducted 35 different research projects aimed at improving workplace safety and reducing grain-related explosions.
From 1977 through 1986, an average of 25 grain-dust explosions occurred every year in the U.S. Since 1987, that average has dropped to 12, with a total of nine occurring last year.