In a letter earlier this year to local farmers and grain storage facility operators, the US Department of Labor released a warning. Every year farm workers are trapped in grain bins around the country. A recent study at Purdue University documented 51 entrapments last year alone. This is a concerning trend that is continuing despite education and enforcement.
The letter, written by David Michaels, PhD, MPH, the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health outlines several key steps to take to help prevent injury to those who work in and around grain bins.
Dr. Miachaels’ letter outlines that grain entrapments occur as a result of three primary causes: non-compliance with OSHA guidelines, employer negligence or poor safety practices. It is the responsibility of every employer to recognize the possible dangers and establish clear safety guidelines that will help keep workers safe.
OSHA suggests that employers must take the following actions when workers enter storage bins:
1) Turn off and lock out all powered equipment associated with the bin so that the grain is not being emptied or moving out or into the bin. Moving grain out of a bin while a worker is in the bin creates a suction that can pull the workers into the grain in seconds.
2) Prevent workers from walking down grain and similar practices.
3) Provide all employees a body harness with a lifeline and ensure that it is secured.
4) Make sure an observer is stationed outside the bin and able to provide help if needed. This should be the only job of the observer.
5) Prevent workers from entering the bins or silos when grain builds up on the sides. This could fall and bury the worker.
6) Test the air within a bin or silo prior to entry. It is possible that combustible and toxic gases can build up, limiting the amount of oxygen available.
7) Permits must be issued for each instance a worker enters a bin or silo, certifying that the precautions listed above have been implemented.
An employer of workers facing these hazards has a legal obligation to protect and train those under their employment.
Indiana Personal Injury attorneys anticipate that there will be more accidents and entrapments in area grain bins and farm silos. We trust employers and farmers will be responsive to OSHA’s call to action and protect the lives of many Indiana workers.