Sixty seconds. That is how quickly a worker can be completely submerged in flowing grain. More than half of all grain engulfments result in death by suffocation.
In 2010, at least 26 U.S. workers were killed in grain engulfments, the highest number on record. Among the deaths were two Illinois teens and a 49-year-old worker who had entered a grain bin "a million times."
In the past 50 years, more than 900 cases of grain engulfment have been reported with a fatality rate of 62 percent, according to researchers at Purdue University in Indiana.
Record death and injuries in 2010, led the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration to reach out to the agricultural and grain handling industries to find ways to prevent deaths and injuries. OSHA also developed a Local Emphasis Program for Grain Handling Facilities focusing on the grain and feed industry's six major hazards. These include engulfment, falls, auger entanglement, "struck by," 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 for six Midwestern states. "Grain handling injuries and deaths can be prevented if employers follow proper safety procedures."
Suffocation can occur when a worker becomes buried by grain as they walk on moving grain or attempt to clear grain built up on the inside of a bin. Moving grain acts like "quicksand" and can bury a worker in seconds. "Bridged" grain and vertical piles of stored grain can also collapse unexpectedly if a worker stands on or near it. The behavior and weight of the grain make it extremely difficult for a worker to get out of it without assistance.
OSHA and the Grain and Feed Association of Illinois have formed a state-wide alliance to get the word out on prevention. A grain bin entry permit has been developed to aid those working in and around bins to identify and control potential hazards.
"This alliance is an opportunity for OSHA to work together with the grain and agricultural industries and the agricultural community to train employers and workers about the unique hazards of the grain and feed industry," said Walters. "Through training, decals, brochures, websites, and other means of information communication, we will continue to work to improve awareness of these hazards and the safety and health of workers on Illinois farms and in grain handling facilities. We are committed to preventing the injuries and deaths that have been too frequent in the industry in recent years."
OSHA, the Grain and Feed Association of Illinois and the Illinois Grain Handling Safety Coalition have also developed a stop sign decal to adhere to grain bin doors using pictures and short phrases reminding entrants to lockout potentially hazardous equipment, stay clear of waist high grain, cover floor holes and to follow other best practices. Individuals or companies can email the Grain and Feed Association of Illinois at email@example.com to request the decal, which is pictured above.
OSHA has also published information related to common grain industry hazards and abatement methods, proper bin entry techniques, sweep auger use, and many other grain related topics at www.osha.gov/SLTC/grainhandling/index.html. OSHA's Grain Bin LEP is used in 25 states.
In addition, the University of Illinois was awarded a U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration Susan Harwood Training Grant Program and has partnered with the Grain Handling Safety Coalition for the development of training materials and outreach to educate workers and employers on how to recognize, avoid and prevent safety and health hazards in grain bins.
The Grain Handling Safety Coalition can provide all the necessary training materials to train farmers, commercial grain handling employees, youth, rescue workers and more for free or at a very reduced rate. There are five different safety topics available including an overview of grain handling and storage safety, grain bin entry as well as entanglement, fall and confined space hazards. GHSC also offers "Train the Trainer" courses for companies and communities to have a local resource for training. More information is available at www.grainsafety.org .
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).
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's role is to ensure these conditions exist for America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.