GRAIN handling can be a dangerous occupation, and the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) is partnering with the industry to promote safe practices that reduce the likelihood for injury or death.
Over the past 50 years, 900 case of grain engulfment have been reported, with a fatality rate of 62%, according to research from Purdue University.
OSHA said at least 26 workers were killed in grain engulfments in 2010, the largest number on record. The record number of deaths in 2010 led OSHA to reach out to grain handlers and industry organizations to find ways of preventing such tragedies.
As part of its outreach program, OSHA developed a Local Emphasis Program for Grain Handling Facilities, which has now been implemented in 25 states. The program focuses on what the agency describes as the grain and feed industry's six major hazards: engulfment, auger entanglement, falling, "struck by" injuries, combustible dust explosions and electrocution hazards.
"OSHA is working hard to change the 'it won't happen to me' mindset," said Nick Walters, OSHA regional administrator in Chicago, Ill. "Grain handling injuries and death can be prevented if employers follow proper safety procedures."
Working with the Grain & Feed Association of Illinois and the Illinois Grain Handling Safety Coalition, OSHA developed a stop sign decal to affix to grain bin doors. The graphic uses pictures and short phrases to remind workers to lock out potentially hazardous equipment, stay clear of waist-high grain, cover floor holes and follow other safety best practices.
Additionally, the agency has published information related to common industry hazards and abatement methods, proper bin entry techniques, sweep auger use and many other grain-related topics at a dedicated grain handling page on its website at www.osha.gov/SLTC/grainhandling.
Among the various efforts employed in each state participating in the local grain handling program are approaches involving state and local authorities, academia and extension and industry associations.
In Minnesota, for example, state OSHA officers have conducted more than 100 grain facility inspections since 2009; no grain handling workplace fatalities have occurred over the past five years.
Illinois' grain safety alliance is one example of an industry-driven approach. Walters said development of the stop sign decal and other training and communications efforts has led to improved awareness of safe grain handling practices.
In Kansas, where at least 10 workers have been killed in grain handling accidents since 2010, the effort has involved many stakeholders. The Kansas Grain & Feed Assn. and Kansas Agribusiness Retailers Assn. have hosted numerous OSHA speakers at the organizations' events and conferences, and the Wichita, Kan., area OSHA office has stepped up its inspections at grain facilities in the region.
Kansas State University, meanwhile, was awarded a DOL grant through the OSHA Susan Harwood Training Grant Program to develop a targeted training program on how to recognize combustible dust and explosion hazards in grain handling facilities. Six workers were killed and two others injured due to a grain dust explosion at a facility in Atchison, Kan., last year.
Not all grain-related fatalities occur in OSHA-inspected facilities, however. In Ohio, two deaths occurred due to grain engulfment in recent months, and both were on family farms. Neither farm was under OSHA jurisdiction because they employed fewer than 10 workers.
To spread safe grain handling messages beyond inspected facilities in the state, OSHA worked with The Ohio State University to develop a grain safety training session as part of the 2012 Grain Safety Day and will host a presentation for the Grain Elevator & Processing Society later this year.
Meanwhile, Ohio State Extension continues to demonstrate safe handling techniques and grain rescue equipment at the university's Farm Science Review each September.
Through a combination of education and outreach delivered through a public/private partnership involving government, academic and industry stakeholders, industry leaders and OSHA officials hope the record number of fatalities in 2010 is one that will never be broken.