Incidents at grain handling facilities remain in the news; for example, the grain silo accident in North Carolina where five workers were trapped in a grain bin, and the recent death of an Indiana man in a grain bin in southern Indiana.
For the past several years, OSHA has been actively inspecting grain handling facilities in all major U.S. grain states under Local Emphasis Programs (LEPs). While LEPs continue to set a pretty high target for the number of grain elevator inspections annually, many regions have held back on inspections during the spring and summer and plan to catch up on the annual target during the fall and winter, the period of time when the activity at grain handling facilities is the greatest; ie: harvest season. During harvest season, employees are also more often engaged in work activities covered by LEPs, such as entering bins, performing preventative maintenance, and loading rail cars.
As a reminder, 29 CFR 1910.272 of the OSHA standards contains requirements for the control of grain dust fires and explosions and certain other safety hazards associated with grain handling facilities. This section applies to grain elevators, feed mills, flour mills, rice mills, dust pelletizing plants, dry corn mills, soybean flaking operations and dry grinding operations of soy cake and requires the employer to develop and implement an emergency action plan meeting the requirements contained in 29 CFR 1910.38, the OSHA standards concerning grain handling facilities.
Another particular area of focus at harvest time is sweep auger safety. Section 1910.272(g)(1)(ii) of the OSHA regulation requires: “All mechanical, electrical, hydraulic, and pneumatic equipment which presents a danger to employees inside grain storage structures shall be de-energized and shall be disconnected, locked-out and tagged, blocked-off or otherwise prevented from operating by other equally effective means or methods.”
When OSHA comes knocking on the door this fall they have the right to:
- Inspect work places;
- Conduct inspections without advance notice;
- Access employer records;
- Collect physical evidence, including photographs, video recordings, air and noise samples, etc., during the inspection; and
- Conduct employee interviews.
However, there are many things that you may want to consider before you let OSHA enter your facility. There are generally three reasons why OSHA can visit: 1) an accident; 2) a complaint; and 3) a scheduled visit. Regardless of the reason, OSHA must obtain a warrant unless they are voluntarily allowed into your facility. Rather, than simply allowing OSHA voluntary, unimpeded access to your facility, call your attorney and safety consultant first. Your attorney can then contact the OSHA inspector, and continue the inspection at a later time or date, usually sometime within the next 48 hours. At that point, your attorney and safety consultant can be present during the inspection and ensure that proper procedures are followed during the inspection. One of the most important tools in preparing for an OSHA inspection is to understand the rights of the respective participants in the inspection process. As the employer/business, you have rights as well.
OSHA will no doubt be out in force this fall at grain elevator facilities. Be prepared and know your rights.