Beef up grain bin safety
Scott Haerr was surprised when OSHA inspectors arrived at his west-central Ohio farm during harvest last year.
“They said they wanted to see my grain setup,” he says. “They found an air compressor without a guard. After talking to an employee, they said he should be trained in handling grease and the proper use of dust masks.”
Haerr corrected the problems. However, in December, he received a certified letter with fines of $5,600. He filed a notice to contest it. On the same day, a regional OSHA administrator called Haerr’s attorney, agreeing to withdraw the citation.
A Holt County, Nebraska, farmer with one employee was also visited in 2011, cited for 22 violations, and fined $132,000.
These visits are unusual because under current law, OSHA isn’t allowed to spend appropriated funds to enforce any standard, rule, regulation, or order if the farm employs 10 or fewer employees.
“OSHA is taking the position that grain drying isn’t a core agricultural operation, and once grain is harvested on a farm with an employee, it has jurisdiction under SIC 0723,” says Bob Aherin, University of Illinois professor and Extension ag safety specialist. “Generally, postharvest activities such as drying, cleaning, and fumigating stored grain on farms are often integral to preparing and marketing activities.”
Congress has added language to the omnibus spending bill, underscoring OSHA’s limits on farms with 10 or fewer employees.
Commercial-size bins on farms
OSHA’s more aggressive stance can be traced to an increasing number of grain bin entrapments (see table above), including the high-profile deaths of teen workers.
“Many farm bins today hold 100,000 to 225,000 bushels,” Aherin says. “They present more risk. Regulations usually come into play if an industry isn’t addressing safety as well as it can.”
Aherin and other members of the Grain Handling Safety Coalition (GHSC) have developed a relatively easy-to-install and low-cost lifeline system for bins that is OSHA-approved.
“Safe entry into a bin requires several steps to reduce entrapment risks,” he says.
GHSC is launching a training program to help farmers and elevator employees determine if a lifeline can be safely installed and, if so, how to use it. The training expands the coalition’s grain-handling safety program. To date, 796 individuals have participated.
A video on the lifeline system and five training modules on fall prevention, entanglement hazards, safe entry, grain-handling hazards, and confined space safety, are at grainsafety.org.