- Silos are a hazardous work environment.silos image by tomcat2170 from Fotolia.com
Silos pose a hazardous environment for those who work on farms. For example, Penn State University stated in 2004 that quicksand-like grain engulfment accidents caused an average of 12 deaths each year. Poor air quality also can cause asphyxiation deaths. In an effort to prevent such injuries and deaths, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has developed a set of safety regulations for people working in silos.
- The owner or party responsible for the silo must issue a permit to the person entering the silo. The only exemption is when the responsible party (or representative) is on site and has affirmed that all persons entering the silo have been trained on the correct OSHA safety procedures. Furthermore, a new permit must be issued for any new person who enters a silo for the first time, and the permit must be kept on file. For example, if a county grain inspector must enter the silo, then that inspector must have a permit stating that he is compliant on all OSHA regulations.
- OSHA mandates that the air be tested prior to entry into a grain silo. This can be done with testing equipment, such as particle counters or air quality meters. Air is examined for unacceptable levels of grain dust, oxygen levels, concentration of flammable gases and toxic agent levels. If the silo is found to be deficient in any area, then it must be ventilated with fresh air. Furthermore, the ventilation must continue as long as people are inside the silo. If ventilation attempts fail, then people entering the silo must wear a respirator. OSHA also states that the person testing the air quality must comply with all OSHA regulations such as wearing a respirator.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
- Everyone entering a silo must use necessary personal protective equipment (PPE). This includes eye protection, hearing protection, and respirators if ventilation is inadequate. A body harness with a lifeline (safety lanyard) should be worn at all times. The lanyard should be attached to secure anchor points inside the silo. The anchors should be placed so the person won't sink more than waist-deep into the silage.
- The person entering the silo must have an outside observer watching. The observer must communicate with the observer at all times, either by voice, visual communication, radio or a combination of methods. The observer must be trained in rescue procedures and have the ability to call for rescue.
- All grain augers, feeders, etc, must be turned off at the OSHA compliant main disconnect box (the main "on-off" switch). An OSHA compliant main disconnect box has a hole strategically placed in the handle into which a padlock should be placed to keep the handle in the "off" position. Beside the padlock, a tag is placed stating the name of the person who placed the lock and the means to contact that person. This is commonly referred to in the electrical industry as a "lock-out tag."
Walking Down Grain Prohibited
- "Walking down grain" is a practice in which a person walks and stomps around on the grain to dislodge a bottleneck within the chutes. The motions are similar to the old practice of stomping on grapes to mash them to make wine. Because of the hazards present with this practice, such as a deadly quicksand-like grain engulfment, walking down grain is not permitted.
- The employer will have proper housekeeping practices in place to prevent the accumulation of grain dust, which is highly flammable. Housekeeping includes cleaning floors, bins, shelves, and any area within the vicinity of the silo. Dust is not allowed to accumulate more than one-eighth inch deep.