Grain handling facilities can be very dangerous places to work. Workers can reduce the chance of work injury or death by taking time to understand the risks that surround them and strategies for staying safe on the job.
A worker can become engulfed in a pile of grain in a storage bin under several circumstances. Sometimes, a compressed area of grain that seems firm and solid enough to stand on can give way, sending an avalanche of grain over the worker. In other cases, an uneven pile of grain might become unstable if even a little grain is added or removed. In addition, workers can get sucked into a grain bin if they stomp on grain in an attempt to get it to move.
Grain can engulf a worker in as little as 11 seconds. Workers who are unable to escape can easily suffocate. Even if there is time to call for help, it is very difficult to overcome the pressure of the grain and pull someone out. Many times, more people become engulfed in the process.
Besides the risk of being smothered under grain, workers face the chance that the air quality inside a grain bin could be poor. Dangerous gases or a lack of oxygen can prove fatal.
It is important for employers and workers alike to be aware of these dangers. Employers should not have workers enter bins when grain is being removed and should avoid dangerous circumstances like those described above.
Grain handling businesses are regulated by a number of OSHA rules designed to avoid work accidents, including a requirement to provide a body harness for a worker on top of stored grain, along with a rescue winch system. In addition, employers also must have a communication system for workers who enter grain bins, and they must test the air in the bins before allowing workers inside.
Workers who notice that their workplace is not following proper safety rules can file a complaint with OSHA. If requested to do so, OSHA will keep the complainants' identities confidential.
Source: U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, "Hazard Alert: Dangers of Engulfment and Suffocation in Grain Bins."