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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

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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.

Some manufacturers are adding anchor points to new bins (see
illustration).

“Most farm bins aren’t new,” Aherin says. “Our goal is to
get lifeline systems installed and used in these bins.”

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