WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — Grain facility operators across the nation rose to the recent challenge put forward by the National Grain and Feed Association to set aside time to discuss with their employees the institutional knowledge and technological innovations achieved by the grain industry and its partners that continue to make grain handling a markedly safer career.

Stand Up for Grain Safety Week, March 25-29, was designed to draw attention to the safety guidance and resources available from the grain industry and the NGFA’s partner in promoting safety, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

“It’s a great example of both the government, through OSHA, and the private sector, through the NGFA, working together to promote safety and providing resources for producers and those within the grain, feed and processing industry,” said Jess McCluer, vice-president of safety and regulatory affairs for the NGFA.

The safety week has grown in popularity in what was its third year. The genesis came with a regional OSHA safety week in collaboration with a chapter of the Grain Elevator and Processing Society. Following a cooperative alliance established in 2017 between the NGFA and OSHA, Stand-Up for Grain Engulfment Prevention Week took place in April 2018.

“The alliance is part of OSHA’s cooperative programs,” McCluer said. “It’s an opportunity for outreach and communication, and it’s an opportunity for them to learn more about our industry, just as it is for our members to learn more about OSHA.”

The scope of the program in 2019 was widened to encompass all aspects of grain handling safety with the goal of improving worker protection, reducing injuries and preventing fatalities from engulfment.

“I think the way that it went last year, a lot of other groups wanted to be a part of it,” McCluer said. “More organizations wanted to collaborate with us to deliver this important information.”

In addition to the NGFA, GEAPS and OSHA, the Grain Handling Coalition and the North American Millers’ Association were participating organizations this year.

During Stand Up for Grain Safety Week, facility managers were encouraged to provide a “focused activity and/or toolbox talk,” according to the NGFA’s web site, on prevention measures for any aspect of grain handling, including:

  • Engulfment/entrapment: Entrapment is when a worker becomes buried in grain beyond the point of self-extraction. Engulfment refers to a worker becoming completely buried or submerged beneath the surface of the grain. Precautions include attempting to alleviate grain flow problems without entering a bin; never working alone; use of body harnesses tethered to a lifeline manned by others outside the bin; and use of pre-arranged hand signals.
  • Slip, trip, and fall prevention: The opportunity for such accidents is amplified in the industry due to the use of a wide variety of surfaces, including extension ladders, stairways, trucks and railroad cars.
  • Mechanical hazards: Each of a wide variety of equipment used in the industry — including pulleys, belts, bucket elevators and sweep augers — has its own set of safety rules.
  • Machine guarding: Shields or other devices covering hazardous areas of tools such as welders, cutters, brazers, angle grinders, and hand tools.
  • Lock-out/tag-out: Lockout refers to use of practices and procedures necessary to disable machinery or equipment, to prevent the release of hazardous energy — electrical, mechanical, hydraulic, pneumatic, chemical, thermal, or other — while employees perform servicing and maintenance activities. A tagout device is a prominent warning device securely attached to controls to prevent operation until removed.
  • Walk down: Intended to stimulate the flow of grain, this practice is prohibited and dangerous, as a worker can sink thigh-deep in flowing grain within seconds.   

Stand Up for Grain Safety Week featured a three-pronged approach to improving safety knowledge and practices in the industry: Learn, plan and act. At the core of the awareness week was the stand-up training session, voluntary events where employers take a break from regular operations to reinforce the importance of grain bin safety.

“Once you learn what a standup is, what the issues are and what material is out there for putting together the standup, it could be a 10-minute toolbox talk or a full-day event delivering the training and updating to your employees and facilities,” McCluer said.

In addition to the voluminous safety resources posted at standupevents.org/grain/resources.cfm, employers and workers will find a certificate of participation that may be posted or placed on file. The NGFA said the event was a success, and it plans to build on it in 2020.

“From what we’ve been hearing from our members, and from pictures we’ve seen, and reports that we’ve received, it sounded like it was very successful,” McCluer said. “We’re in the process of surveying our members to get further information on the number of employees trained, hours spent, and topics addressed. We’re really looking forward to seeing what the results of the survey are going to be.”