By A. Scott HeckerAdam R. Young, James L. Curtis, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis: OSHA is promoting grain safety and compliance with the Grain Handling Facilities Standard on it’s website and links to additional information about Stand Up for Grain Safety Week, which takes place March 27-31, 2023.

Each year, dozens of workers become entrapped in confined spaces at grain handling facility worksites.  Further, according to researchers from Purdue University, there have been more than 900 cases of reported grain engulfment in the last five decades, with a fatality rate of 62 percent. As we noted in our October 8, 2019 blog concerning OSHA’s Grain Handling Facilities Standard, 29 C.F.R. § 1910.272, OSHA maintains an aggressive enforcement focus on grain handling facilities.  OSHA regularly pings the regulated community on grain handling facility compliance.  OSHA maintains regional and local emphasis programs for Grain Handling Facilities in Region V (IL, OH, WI), Region VIII (CO, MT, ND, SD), and the state of Idaho.

OSHA’s Grain Handling Facilities Standard applies broadly to facilities that “may receive, handle, store, process and ship bulk raw agricultural commodities such as … corn, wheat, oats, barley, sunflower seeds, and soybeans.”  The facilities include grain elevators, feed mills, flour mills, rice mills, dust pelletizing plants, dry corn mills, soybean flaking operations, and dry grinding operations of soycake.

With its most recent press release, OSHA explains that it continues to place an enforcement emphasis on grain handling facilities because the “grain handling industry is a high hazard industry where workers can be exposed to numerous serious and life threatening hazards.” The hazards include: fires and explosions from grain dust accumulation, suffocation from engulfment and entrapment in grain bins, falls from heights and crushing injuries, and amputations from grain handling equipment.

Engulfment and confined spaces are a primary concern of the Agency. “Suffocation can occur when a worker becomes buried (engulfed) by grain as they walk on moving grain or attempt to clear grain build up on the inside of a bin. Moving grain acts like “quicksand” and can bury a worker in seconds.”  It is estimated that about 400 pounds of pulling force is required to extract a body out of waist deep grain.  Accordingly, it is typically impossible for one employee to pull out by hand another employee engulfed in grain.  The regulations provide for grain bin entry procedures, with attendants and rescue plans.

In addition, grain dust explosions can be severe.  According to OSHA, over the last 35 years, there have been over 500 explosions in grain handling facilities across the United States, which have killed more than 180 people and injured more than 675.  OSHA has used at least one national industry consensus standard in enforcement activities concerning grain handling facilities.  We previously blogged on Updated Combustible Dust NFPA Industry Consensus Standard Gives OSHA New Tool to Cite Employers: Does Your Facility Comply?  In the blog, we noted that compliance with the industry standard for combustible dust was set for September 2020.  But we suggested that industry not delay its compliance efforts, as OSHA was already citing employers using the not-yet-effective NFPA 652, Standard on the Fundamentals of Combustible Dust.

Since that time, federal OSHA has continued its enforcement emphasis on employers who operate grain handling facilities, and those employers should ensure they remain in full compliance.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Seyfarth Workplace Safety and Health (OSHA/MSHA) Team.