Although most family farms are exempt from OSHA regulations, it's important to follow their standards for confined spaces when working around grain bins.

Confined-space safety beyond the bin

Grain Bin Safety Week is a good time to focus on what you need to do to stay safe when working in and around grain bins. But grain bins are just one type of confined space that can pose health and safety risks to anyone working in them.

It’s important to know these different settings — like manure pits, scale pits, well pits, bulk feed tanks and feed mixers — and treat them with the same respect and attention to safety as you do grain bins.

Nationwide recommends farmers to follow Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) standards for entering a confined space, such as a manure pit, feed mixer or bulk feed tank. It’s the best way to avoid tragedy on your farm. Learn more about the dangers of working in confined spaces.

Know the difference between confined and permit-required confined spaces

A confined space is defined by OSHA as one that:

  • Is large enough for an employee to enter fully and perform assigned work
  • Is not designed for continuous occupancy by the employee
  • Has a limited or restricted means of entry or exit

On top of these conditions, OSHA requires workers to provide a permit before working in permit-required confined spaces. These are those spaces that pose additional dangers to worker health and safety, including these conditions:

  • Hazardous atmosphere like the presences of toxic gases, explosive gases or a general oxygen deficiency
  • Engulfment potential like from any flowing material like grain or sawdust
  • Structures where walls and floors slope or converge. These structures pose entrapment and asphyxiation hazards and include cone-bottom tanks
  • Other hazards like moving machinery, electrical systems or heat sources

Here are a few examples of confined spaces that require permits and strict attention to health and safety:

Manure pits and manure pump pits

The biggest danger with manure pits is toxic gas. Animal waste generates hydrogen sulfide, methane, carbon dioxide and ammonia. These gases can overwhelm workers by producing oxygen-deficient, toxic or explosive atmospheres.

Manure pit incidents aren’t limited to the inside of the pit. During agitation or mixing, these gases can be released into the air around the pit.

Entrapment or drowning is another potential hazard. Because liquid manure can dry on top, the surface may appear safe to walk on — but don’t do it. If you fall through, slanted walls and toxic gases can make it almost impossible to escape. To reduce the danger of manure pits, take the following precautions:

  • Never enter a pit during or just after agitation
  • If you absolutely must enter a pit, always wear a self-contained breathing equipment with oxygen-supplying tanks
  • Always wear a safety line and work with at least two other people outside the pit
  • Remove all people and all animals from buildings over pits before pit agitation
  • Provide maximum ventilation when agitating or pumping manure
  • Do not smoke or have any other fire or ignition source around manure pits

Scale pits

Scale pit hazards include carbon monoxide from truck or tractor exhaust and oxygen-deficient, potentially toxic air due to deteriorated or rotting grain. To help reduce the risk of accidents, clean scale pits regularly and properly ventilate prior to entry.

Well pits

Wells pits are common on many farms. Only enter a well pit when cleaning and performing maintenance. Hazards include:

  • Drowning if not properly covered
  • Electric shock if equipped with an electric pump
  • Suffocation due to hazardous gases and vapors

Precautions include properly covering and securing access points, maintaining electrical equipment and using buckets and long-handled scoops to remove debris.

Feed mixers

Entanglement in rotating parts of a feed mixer can cause serious injury, dismemberment or death. Take the following precautions to prevent the possibility of serious injury or death:

  • Do not allow personnel other than the qualified operator near the machine
  • Never start machine until all guards and safety shields are in place
  • Do not clean, adjust or lubricate the machine while it’s in motion
  • Never enter the machine while in operation
  • Never wear loose or floppy clothing around machine

Stay safe whenever working in confined spaces on the farm by being attentive to hazards and all required safety procedures, practices and equipment. Learn more about tips to stay safe when working around grain bins.

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