‘Walking down grain’ is a deadly operation (Don’t do it)

Two workplace deaths in July heighten awareness for grain bin safety

By Bruce Loughner CSP, BWC Technical Safety Advisor

This is my second blog post on deadly grain bin accidents this year, and I hope it’s the last.

But as a safety professional for the state of Ohio, I feel obligated to spread the word on grain bin safety precautions following the tragic loss of two lives at a Toledo grain facility July 19.

I don’t know all the details surrounding the accident that claimed the lives of a 29-year-old Rossford man and a 56-year-old Perrysburg man that hot Friday afternoon, but according to news reports the two men died when they climbed inside a grain silo to break up compacted grain and unplug a blocked hole. This is a hazardous process known as “walking down grain.” The two were engulfed in grain and suffocated.

OSHA prohibits “walking down grain” and similar practices in flat storage structures. Regulations also limit employee access, entry and work in any grain storage bin. When permitted, the standards require strict hazard control measures and training for all employees assigned tasks that require bin entry. OSHA has a variety of resources that explain the deadly hazards associated with grain handling operations.

In a March 2019 BWC Blog post, I spoke about a grain bin accident that occurred years ago when three young boys entered a grain bin to break up stored corn so that it could flow. The two employees in Toledo were performing a similar task.

News reports indicate emergency responders had early contact with one of the trapped workers. Unfortunately, the rescue turned into a recovery operation as time passed and the grain suffocated the two employees. The hazards are well known, and environmental conditions are ripe for grain to bridge and develop air pockets.

Two other recent grain-bin deaths in Ohio involved a 20-year-old worker being caught in an auger and a 68-year-old farmer being engulfed in a bin. Each death was preventable. New innovations in equipment with proper training and knowledge can be used to complete the task without ever entering the grain bins.  All grain handling deaths and serious injuries can be prevented.

As the first line of defense, BWC encourages eliminating hazards through engineering control measures, including mechanical raking devices, proper ventilation for dust and mold control, and the use of vibrating mechanisms to break up bridged grain.

Prior to entering a grain bin, take the following precautions:

  • Conduct a job safety analysis to identify specific hazards and to determine the best course of action for eliminating or controlling the hazards using engineering controls, safe work practices, and personal protective equipment.
  • Treat the grain bin as a confined space and develop specific procedures for determining if it is safe to enter, how to enter, how to work safely in the space, and how to get out safely in the event of an emergency. Develop a communication and rescue plan.
  • Develop a program and procedures for lock out and tag out of all energy sources. Never allow employees to enter the grain bin while the auger is activated or when it could become activated.
  • Provide the appropriate personal protective equipment (e.g. respirator, safety harness, and lifeline) depending on the hazards that might be encountered. Train employees how to use it properly.
  • Contact the local fire department for assistance in developing rescue procedures. Practice self-rescue and other rescue procedures.
  • Train and educate employees engaged in grain bin operations by emphasizing hazards and safety procedures.

Whether you operate a small farm or a large handling and storage operation for exporting grain, a BWC consultant can assist you.

We provide on-site consultations to assess hazards, identify engineering and other control measures, and make you aware of federal and state requirements.

In addition, we can help with the development of site-specific safety procedures, training and educational resources to address the deadly hazards associated with grain bin operations.

Check out this BWC brochure for additional information. For more on the July 19 tragedy, read this story from the Toledo Blade.

One thought on “‘Walking down grain’ is a deadly operation (Don’t do it)

  1. Pingback: Talk safety with us at the Farm Science Review | BWC Blog

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