William Harp gives demonstration of a bin-entry-kit with rope prusiks.
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI, U.S. — The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is urging the U.S. grain handling industry to fully implement safety and health programs, including procedures for controlling hazardous energy, safe bin entry and housekeeping to avoid tragedies.

“Far too many preventable incidents continue to occur in the grain handling industry,” said Kim Stille, OSHA’s regional administrator in Kansas City. “Every employee working in the grain industry must be trained on grain handling hazards and given the tools to ensure they do not enter a bin or silo without required safety equipment. They must also take all necessary precautions — this includes using lifelines, testing the atmosphere inside a bin and turning off and locking out all powered equipment to prevent restarting before entering grain storage structures.”

According to OSHA it only takes 5 seconds for flowing grain to engulf and trap a worker, and only 60 seconds for a worker to be submerged and in serious danger of death by suffocation. More than half of all workers engulfed in grain die this way, and many others suffer permanent disability, OSHA said.

An “engulfment” often happens when “bridged” grain and vertical piles of stored grain collapse unexpectedly, OSHA explained. Engulfments may occur when employees work on or near the pile or when bin augers whirl, causing the grain to buckle and fall onto the worker. The density, weight and unpredictable behavior of flowing grains make it nearly impossible for workers to rescue themselves without help, according to OSHA.

OSHA’s Grain Handling Industry Local Emphasis Program focuses on the grain and feed industry’s six major hazards: engulfment, falls, auger entanglement, “struck by,” combustible dust explosions and electrocution hazards.

Since January 2016, Nebraska and Kansas’ grain handling industries have had two fatalities and four preventable work-related incidents. A 42-year-old superintendent at Cooperative Producers Inc.’s Hayland grain-handling site in Prosser, Nebraska, U.S., suffered fatal injuries on March 16 caused by an operating auger as he drew grain from a bin. In mid-May, a 53-year-old male employee at Prinz Grain and Feed suffered severe injuries as he worked in a grain bin in West Point, Nebraska, U.S. The maintenance worker was in a grain bin when a wall of corn product collapsed and engulfed him. He died of his injuries two days later.

In 2015, the industry reported 22 grain-entrapment cases nationwide. Of those, 4% occurred in commercial grain facilities and 82% occurred on farms exempt from OSHA compliance. In 2010, 51 workers found themselves engulfed by grain stored in bins, and 26 died — the highest number on record — according to researchers at Indiana’s Purdue University. Purdue also said that of the more than 900 cases of grain engulfments reported since 1966, 62% resulted in worker deaths.

“It is vital that we work with leaders, farmers and those employed in the grain and feed industry to increase awareness of hazards in the grain industry and discuss ways to protect workers on the job,” said Jeff Funke, OSHA’s area director in Omaha. “In our presentation to the NGFA (National Grain and Feed Association), we were able to reach about 5,000 employees on a national level. Through education, training and common sense safety procedures we can prevent workplace injuries and deaths in the grain industry.”

OSHA’s representatives from the Wichita, Kansas, U.S., area over the past year have presented information on the most frequently found hazards in the grain industry.

“Grain dust accumulation must be controlled to prevent a fuel source in bins from igniting in proximity to operating conveyors, augers and other equipment,” said Judy Freeman, OSHA’s area director in Wichita. “OSHA grain handling standards address the numerous serious and life threatening hazards found in grain bins, including grain dust explosions, engulfment and entrapment from flowing grain, falls and amputation hazards. These common sense safety standards protect workers on the job in this hazardous industry.”

To ask questions, obtain compliance assistance, file a complaint, or report workplace hospitalizations, fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to workers, the public should call OSHA's toll-free hotline at 800-321-OSHA (6742).