OSHA Addresses Grain Bin Sweep Augers via Recent Settlement

There is a very interesting article on OSHA Law Update about OSHA's battle with sweep auger safety. Written by Amanda R. Strainis-Walker and Eric J. Conn, the article details the lead up to recent changes in OSHA's position on sweep augers and under what circumstances it is permissible to have workers inside a grain bin with energized sweep augers.

In the past, OSHA has written citations for facilities that have had employees working inside grain bins with energized sweep augers, regardless of circumstances. The article explains that many in the grain handling industry believed the citations were the result of OSHA's poor understanding of the way sweep augers work, and that they left grain bin operators with few options for being both productive and compliant.

Through an OSHA sweep auger citation case that was handled by the law firm Epstein Becker & Green, the firm behind OSHA Law Update, OSHA agreed to guidelines that would permit an employee to work inside a grain bin with an energized sweep auger.

The Ten Sweep Auger Safety Principles as outlined in the article are as follows:

  1. In accordance with 29 CFR 1910.272, no employee shall enter a grain bin until after completion of a bin entry permit, which confirms there are no engulfment and/or atmospheric hazards present inside the storage bin, or unless the employer or the employer’s representative who would otherwise authorize the permit remains present during the entire entry.  The grain bin hazard evaluation shall be completed by a qualified person.
  2. Before entering the bin to set up or dig out the sweep auger, the subfloor auger and the grain entry points must be de-energized and locked out.
  3. Before operating the sweep auger, the grate/guard on the sub-floor auger must be in place and secured.
  4. Employees operating the sweep auger cannot walk on the grain, if the depth of the grain presents engulfment hazard.
  5. It shall require that the sweep auger is provided with guards and covers per the manufacturers’ design, and the only unguarded portion of the sweep auger is the point of operation.
  6. A rescue trained and equipped observer, in accordance with 1910.272(g), must always be positioned outside the storage bin monitoring the activities of all workers inside the bin.
  7. If a worker is to enter the bin while the sweep auger is energized, the employer must utilize engineering controls within the grain bin to prevent workers from coming into contact with the energized sweep auger.  The use of only administrative controls without the use of an engineering control is not a sufficient means of worker protection.   Acceptable engineering controls may include:
    • Sweep auger equipped with an attached guard which prevents the workers contact with the unguarded portion of the auger in accordance with 1910 subpart O.
    • Sweep auger equipped with a control mechanism, such as a dead-man switch or other similar device, which will allow for the sweep auger’s operation only when the operator is in contact with device.   If this method is utilized as a means of worker protection, the worker must be positioned at least seven feet from the auger at all times it is energized; moreover, if worker(s) in addition to the operator of the sweep auger are in the bin, additional engineering controls (such as those described in section 7 of this criteria) must be used to protect those worker(s).
    • Portable guardrails are permissible, provided they are placed at least seven feet behind the sweep auger.  Note:  the use of a warning line, or other easily removable device, other than a portable guardrail, is not considered sufficient engineering controls.
  8. The auger must be provided with a positive speed control mechanism or bin stop device that prevents the uncontrolled rotation of the sweep auger.
  9. Workers are prohibited from using their hands, legs other similar means to manipulate the sweep auger while it is operating.
  10. If maintenance/adjustments are necessary to the sweep auger, the sweep must be unplugged, with the person making the adjustments maintaining the control of the plug, or locked-out in accordance with lock-out/tag-out procedures.

The article provides additional information on the Practical Application of the Sweep Augers Safety Principles.

In other grain handling news, MSDSonline will be making a special presentation on OSHA's revised Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) as relates to grain processors as part of the GEAPS Exchange 2013. The presentation will address GHS and new updates to combustible dust in the HCS.