A significant percentage of the Nebraska workforce is involved in agriculture. With the prevalence of crop farming that includes grain sorghum, corn, hay, wheat and soybeans, grain bins feature in various operations. If you work at any facility at which your duties put you in or near grain elevators or feed mills, you will likely face a host of safety hazards.
Regardless of whether you work outside the bins or in them during loading or unloading of grain, or are involved in equipment maintenance, it is crucial to learn about the hazards that may threaten your life. Even the hidden dangers are very real, and you must be alert and conscious of them at all times.
Common grain bin safety hazards
While grain dust and flowing grain are known to present significant risks, the following will show that even settled grain with no movement could be deadly:
- Explosion and fire hazards: Welding, grinding or smoking can cause sparks that could ignite grain dust, and with enough oxygen present, grain dust becomes highly explosive. Keep this in mind when doing maintenance on bins containing grain.
- Skin irritation and respiratory hazards: Pouring grain into or out of grain bins creates dust that could affect you in different ways, including digestive problems, rashes or other skin irritations, and respiratory problems.
- Grain flow hazards: Quick moving grain, such as when it flows in or out of the bin forms a funnel shape that could submerge you within seconds. Entrapment and suffocation could follow.
- Entrapment: Complacency might be the primary cause of entrapment, and you should focus on these hazards and never work alone. Be sure to lock control circuits before entering grain bins that have automatic unloading equipment.
- Avalanche hazards: Soiled grain could form a crust along the wall of the bin, and disturbing it in an effort to separate it from the wall from below could cause an avalanche and almost instant entrapment. A safe method is dislodging it from above while wearing a safety harness.
- Grain bridge hazard: Walking across a grain bridge that forms in the bin can claim your life. A bridge can form when moldy grain freezes during winter, often with a hollow cavity below, and falling through the hard layer could result in engulfment.
Safety authorities like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration require employers to protect the health and safety of employees. The following precautions might keep you safe:
- Training: Attend all training sessions, even if it seems repetitive. It might prevent complacency and encourage alertness.
- Avoid working alone: The ideal situation has one worker in the bin and two outside to provide support.
- PPE: Never enter the grain bin without the necessary personal protective equipment, such as a fall-arrest harness and a respirator to filter dust particles.
- Air quality: Test air quality inside the bin before entering to detect toxic and combustible gases and the oxygen level.
- Permit system: Only enter the bin with a permit that ensures all safety precautions are in place.
- Entrapment: While chances of surviving grain engulfment are slim, it might help to keep moving and try to stay close to the outer wall.
If you take all the necessary steps to protect your safety, you might avoid the complicated process of claiming insurance benefits. However, the fact that the Nebraska workers' compensation insurance program is there to have your back in the event of a workplace injury might provide some comfort. If you should need those benefits, an experienced workers' comp attorney can assist with the navigation of the claims process.