Ag Safety: Grain Bin Hazards and Safety Precautions - Grains of Knowledge
Ag Safety: Grain Bin Hazards and Safety PrecautionsThis post is the first in a series on agricultural safety that will educate readers about the risks associated with various farming and agribusiness jobs, as well as offer helpful tips for reducing and preventing hazards at your family or business operation.
Being a part of the farming and agribusiness industry can be greatly rewarding. In the U.S., families and businesses supply essential produce and consumer goods, support economic growth and contribute to the legacy of American farming.
Members of the agriculture community are aware that certain jobs and farming duties can be more hazardous than others. From operating tractors, to filling and performing maintenance on grain bins, dangers on the worksite are real and should be kept top-of-mind when developing an effective safety program.
This week’s post focuses on the hazards associated with grain bins, including key precautions that can be taken to reduce workers’ risks while performing duties in, and around, grain bins and grain dust.
Grain Bin Hazards and Safety Precautions:
Grain bins are used in a variety of agribusiness operations, including grain elevators, feed mills and farms that grow crops like corn, soybeans and wheat. Workers work in and outside of the bins, loading and unloading the grain, as well as conducting maintenance on the equipment.
Below is a list of some of the most common and hazardous situations that can exist from working with grain bins.
- Respiratory and skin hazards — Grain dust created by the grain into bins can affect people’s health in varying degrees. While some people may not experience a reaction, others can suffer from difficulty breathing, digestion and stomach problems, or skin irritations and rashes.
- Fire and explosion hazards — Grain dust is also extremely flammable and can be ignited easily by fire, sparks or hot bearings. Mixed with oxygen, the dust can also become highly explosive.
- Flowing Grain — When workers unload grain, the grain flows out of the bin from the top center, creating a funnel-shaped flow that can submerge a worker waist-deep within a matter of seconds. This can happen as a result of moving the grain too quickly, using larger storage facilities, year-round storage of grain or a lack of awareness of the dangers associated with flowing grain. If this occurs, workers can become entrapped in the grain and suffocate.
- Collapsed Grain Bridge — Grain bridges occur when grain is moldy or during the winter months when it freezes, creating a hard crust on top of the bin. This thick crust can form over a hollow cavity within the bin, and if a worker attempts to walk across this “bridge,” they run the risk of it collapsing. If the grain bridge collapses, a worker is immediately submerged in the grain, trapped several feet below the point of entry.
- Grain Wall Avalanche — If grain is in a bad condition or spoiled, it can crust together, lining the bin wall. Workers may attempt to break the pillar apart, and if it is loosened, it can create an avalanche that quickly covers the bottom of the bin and any workers inside.
Additional safety tips:
- Install ladders inside and outside all bins.
- Require all workers go through training for specific hazardous situations related to entering and working inside of grain bins.
- Provide workers with adequate safety harnesses for entering a dangerous bin. If a hazardous situation is present, three workers should be present — one inside the bin and two outside for support.
- Do not rely on a rope, chain or pipe ladder hanging from the roof.
- When working with out-of-condition, moldy grain, do not work alone and always wear a respirator capable of filtering fine dust particles.
- Air quality inside a bin or silo should be tested prior to entry to detect the presence of combustible and toxic gases, and to determine if there is sufficient oxygen.
- If you should become trapped in a grain bin or silo, stay near the outer wall and keep moving.
- Issue a permit each time a worker enters a bin or silo, certifying that all precautions have been implemented.
- National Ag Safety Database (NASD) safety topics, videos tips and other safety training resources.
- OSHA fact sheet, Worker Entry Into Grain Storage Bins
- OSHA safety and health information bulletin (SHIB), Combustible Dust in Industry: Preventing and Mitigating the Effects of Fire and Explosions
- OSHA Hazard Alert: Combustible Dust Explosions fact sheet
What precautions have you implemented on your farm or at your agribusiness? We'd like to hear from our readers, and share any additional tips that could be used to help keep workers safe while working with grain and grain bins.