8 steps to building a grain bin worker safety plan

Grain bins are one of a few confined spaces on many farms that pose a hazard to anyone working in and around them.

Because of this risk, the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has specific requirements for working in grain bins safely and to specifically minimize the hazards of grain dust fires and explosions. Other hazards like entrapment should also be accounted for in a grain safety plan for working in and around bins.

In its requirements for maintaining safety and health standards when working in and around grain handling facilities, OSHA specifically spells out what should be included in an emergency action plan, from training ahead of time to permit requirements during work inside a bin and emergency preparedness plans.

That type of detailed planning should be part of any grain bin work and include the following steps before, during and after work happens.

  • Identify your safety team. Know who will be conducting the work and who you will contact in the case of an emergency, including local first responders.
  • Develop a written permit system. Anyone working in and around grain bins should complete a confined-space entry permit that lists all potential hazards. Doing so will inform everyone of the hazards they could encounter during the work.
  • Power down and lock out equipment. All mechanical, electrical, hydraulic and pneumatic equipment should be powered down, disconnected and locked or tagged out before entering a bin. This includes any power take-off equipment like augers.
  • Monitor the air. Air inside a grain bin can be toxic, combustible or hypoxic. Make sure ventilation is functioning properly and monitor oxygen levels to make sure they’re consistent.
  • Ensure a proper anchor point8. Anchor points should be able to support up to 1,800 pounds and affixed to structure roofs. This will help ensure workers can’t sink far enough in flowing grain to suffocate.
  • Secure a lifeline. Provide all workers inside a grain bin with a lifeline and harness affixed to a roof-mounted anchor point. Also inform all workers about the entrapment dangers of “walking down grain,” a common practice to keep grain flowing inside a bin.
  • Include an observer. Never work alone. Make sure an observer is stationed where he or she can maintain constant communication with a worker inside a bin.
  • Train every worker. Make sure anyone entering a grain bin has completed OSHA training for the specific hazards. This includes training on shut-down and lock-out procedures, air testing and securing with anchor points and lifelines.

See more grain bin safety procedures and ideas at ThinkGrainBinSafety.com and learn about Nationwide’s sponsorship of Grain Bin Safety Week, an annual effort to raise awareness about the dangers of working in and around grain bins.

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