How to work safely in grain bins
When you enter a grain bin to work or perform maintenance, you’re starting one of the most dangerous jobs on the farm. It’s a job with a lot of hazards, from suffocation to grain engulfment. Those hazards make it important to ensure everyone on the farm who may work in or around bins to have the right training and education.
Suffocation occurs when workers are engulfed by grain or when bins develop oxygen-deficient atmospheres or high concentrations of toxic gases like carbon dioxide or methane given off by deteriorating or rotten grain. Engulfment happens when a worker is overtaken by a high volume of crusted, bridged or flowing grain.
Despite these hazards, there are times when workers must enter a grain bin. To keep workers safe, Nationwide recommends you strictly follow the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) standards for safe operation around bins and grain-handling facilities. Use those standards to create a set of rules for all workers to follow whenever working in or around a grain bin.
Create your grain safety plan
Those rules should include steps you and any other workers should take before, during and after you’ve worked in or around grain storage facilities to get the job done safely.
- Identify your safety team. Who do you call in case of emergency? Who are your emergency team members and what are their roles? Is your local emergency response team familiar with your operation? Those are just some of the questions a bin rescue plan needs to answer. Contact your local emergency medical service and public safety departments to determine how exactly they can help in the event of a grain storage safety emergency. Learn how you can nominate your local fire department to win grain bin rescue training and a rescue tube.
- Develop a written permit system. Require anyone working in or around grain bins or storage facilities to sign a confined-space entry permit. The permit provides a checklist to identify all hazards, so every worker takes the proper precautions before entering a bin and while work is underway. The permit must be signed by a supervisor who verifies the permit is properly filled out and the worker is prepared to work and informed of all potential hazards. See more about grain bin entry permits.
- Power down and lock out equipment. Powered equipment presents a danger to workers inside grain storage structures. All mechanical, electrical, hydraulic and pneumatic equipment must be powered down, disconnected and locked or tagged out before entering a bin. Discharge augers must be disconnected from power and locked and/or tagged out. Loading augers powered by a power take-off (PTO) system must be shut off and disconnected to eliminate the possibility of someone turning on the auger while someone else is in the bin.
- Monitor the air. Before entering a grain bin, test the air for the presence of combustible gases, vapors and toxic agents to ensure a sufficient oxygen level. If toxic gases are present, ventilate the bin until the air is safe. Then, continue that ventilation and monitor air quality to make sure toxic conditions don’t return until workers have the job done. Do not allow entry until oxygen levels are consistently sufficient. See more on the dangers of toxic gases in a grain bin.
- Ensure a proper anchor point. The anchor point should be overhead and able to support around 1,800 pounds. Older farm bin roofs aren’t designed to support much weight, so consult with a design engineer before adding anchor points. While newer bins should be able to support anchor points, it’s still a good idea to check with the manufacturer to ensure anchor points will support the necessary weight. See more OSHA regulations to prevent workers from sinking further than waist deep in the grain.
- Secure a lifeline. Whenever a worker enters a partially filled grain bin, he or she must wear a harness and safety line that’s securely tied to a fixed overhead-anchor point. A lifeline attached to any location other than an overhead-anchor point is useless in preventing engulfment. The safety line should be kept tight to prevent the worker from sinking. Even if they’re secured with a lifeline, workers should also never “walk down grain,” a common way to keep grain flowing inside a bin.
- Include an observer. Never work alone. An observer is required to be stationed outside the bin who will maintain constant communication with the worker inside the bin. The method of communication can be visual, vocal or using a signal line.
- Train every worker. Before anyone enters a grain bin, OSHA requires them to complete training for the specific hazards inherent to the work they’re going to do. Workers need to understand the hazards, equipment shut-down and lock-out procedures, air testing and how to properly secure themselves with lifelines when entering a bin where there is the potential to be engulfed by grain. See more safety and training information from OSHA.
Don’t overlook safety training
With all of the resources available from OSHA and other sources, there are no excuses for falling short on safety instruction and training for everyone who works in and around grain bins. Always make safety your top priority whenever doing this dangerous work and communicate often to make sure everyone involved is prepared and aware of the hazards grain bin work present. See more valuable grain bin safety resources.
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