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Managing Grain Bin Safety in Multiple Locations

May 8, 2015

By Joe Florkowski

Preventing accidents in grain bins and silos may be challenging but an Ohio-based milling company shared how it evaluates storage space and promotes safety across multiple locations and hundreds of facilities during the 119th annual International Association of Operative Millers conference at the Palm Springs Convention Center in Palm Springs, Thursday, May 7.

Employee education and engagement are important to keep accidents from happening, as well as to avoid possible fines and even prosecution from OSHA, said Mike Lake, corporate director of environmental, safety, and occupational health for Mennel Milling Co. during the conference session Improved Hazard Assessment Tools for Preventing Confined Space Emergencies in the Grain Industry.

OSHA sent a letter in 2010 that said the government would give more scrutiny to confined space incidents. That letter made an impact with Mennel. “Our confined space program got prioritized,” Lake said.

Mennel completed a hazard assessment of its 16 locations and more than 500 storage spaces between January 2011 and February 2012, Lake said. The work took a lot of time and resources, but Lake said it was worth it.  "We need to understand the hazards and that’s what this is all about,” Lake said.

A recent report from Purdue University found that there were at least 70 confined space-related injuries and deaths in and around storage grain facilities in 2014. Those 70 cases are a drop from recent years. In 2009 and 2010, Purdue documented nearly 200 confined space cases that resulted in injuries or deaths. Those two years saw the largest number of cases from the period from 2005 to 2014.

Lake explained to the millers in attendance that Mennel engages with employees and continually communicates, evaluates, validates, mitigates, and updates its information to ensure that its facilities are safe.

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One of the things Mennel created is an in-house hazard assessment tool used by employees at various company locations. Mennel created an Excel file using “True/False” functionality to determine whether the hundreds of bins and other storage facilities are safe for employees to use. Using the Excel file, employees at the various Mennel Milling sites will answer questions about the storage space in question, such as is the space designed for continuous employee occupancy, does the space have limited or restricted means of entry or exit, or is the space large enough and so configured that an employee can enter and perform work?

By entering “Yes” or “No” for these questions, Mennel employees can create a confined space evaluation form that is sued to determine the safety of the storage bin. Mennel employees can also take a photo of the storage space or even provide a drawing of the facility that is kept with the confined space evaluation form. Those images/drawings can then be used later if there is an incident within a storage space.

Joe Florkowski is the managing editor for Powder & Bulk Solids. He can be reached at [email protected]

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