March 18, 2020

OSHA, Partner Organizations to Spotlight Grain Storage, Handling Hazards

This year’s National Stand-Up for Grain Safety Week is scheduled to take place across the United States April 13–17. OSHA is partnering with industry groups including the Grain Elevator and Processing Society, the Grain Handling Safety Council, the National Grain and Feed Association, and the University of Texas at Arlington to raise awareness of resources available to identify and prevent hazards at grain, feed, and processing facilities nationwide.

A safety stand-up is a voluntary event at which employers speak directly to workers about safety concerns. In the past, participants of the grain safety stand-up week have included grain-handling, feed-manufacturing, and grain-processing facilities throughout the U.S., but anyone who wants to prevent hazards in the workplace can participate.

Employers hold a safety stand-up by setting aside time to talk about relevant safety issues or hold another safety-related activity. This April, each day of Stand-Up for Grain Safety Week will focus on a specific topic. Workers and employers will have opportunities for activities such as employee training, hazard hunts, audits of preventive measures, corrections of any identified hazards, and a review of grain engulfment prevention measures. A video on how to conduct a safety stand-up, as well as more information about grain hazards, is available on the grain safety event's home page.

Employee safety is vital in the grain industry, where workers can be exposed to life-threatening hazards. Grain dust is combustible and may catch fire or explode if enough becomes airborne or if it accumulates on an ignition source. Workers may fall from many walking-working surfaces at height, such as catwalks and machinery. Mechanical equipment such as augurs and conveyers presents injury risks. Workers risk exposure to toxic gases such as fumigants, used for insect control. Finally, workers may become engulfed and suffocate as they try to walk on top of moving grain or remove blocked grain from storage bins.

The Purdue University Agricultural Safety and Health Program has been documenting incidents involving grain storage and handling facilities since the 1970s, and Purdue’s Agricultural Confined Space Incident Database collects information on confined spaces and grain entrapments in the U.S. The university has documented more than 2,000 cases that resulted in an injury, fatality, or required emergency extrication by first responders that occurred between 1962 and 2018. More than 70 percent of those incidents involved grain storage and handling facilities, with 1,225 cases reported as entrapment or engulfment in grain. According to Purdue’s 2018 summary of agricultural confined space-related injuries and fatalities in the U.S. (PDF), grain entrapments accounted for 49 percent of the 61 documented cases that year. Fifteen of the 30 workers who became entrapped in grain were killed. The university stresses that its data does not account for all incidents that involve agricultural confined spaces and estimates that approximately 30 percent of cases go unreported.

For more information about grain engulfment and how to prevent it, read OSHA’s new alert on the hazard (PDF). Additional information about grain handling is available on OSHA’s website.