OSHA ISSUES NEW POLICY ON SWEEP AUGERS INSIDE GRAIN BINS
National Association Update!
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on Dec. 24 signed a “letter of interpretation” that creates a new policy for operating sweep augers inside grain bins. The letter was in response to questions posed by an insurance representative, who had asked: 1) if a sweep auger can be operated in a bin with an employee present; and 2) if not, what method or procedure OSHA would find acceptable for removing grain from flat-bottom grain bins.
Other than a provision in the OSHA grain handling safety standard (1910.272) that addresses whether an employee may enter a bin when machines are operating, OSHA does not have a formal policy addressing the operation of sweep augers. In August 2009, representatives from the NGFA and Grain Elevator and Processing Society (GEAPS) met with OSHA officials to discuss the methods and procedures used for the operation of sweep augers inside grain bins. The meeting was based upon OSHA’s request to learn more about the process of removing grain from a bin as it developed a response to the letter received from the insurance company representative, not associated with the NGFA, who had asked the agency to explain its “policies and procedures” for operating a sweep auger.
OSHA agreed to meet with the NGFA and GEAPS to discuss how sweep augers operate, how they are used within the grain handling industry and how the initial best practices document was developed prior to issuing a response to the insurance representative’s second letter. Representatives of three OSHA entities were involved in the meeting – the Directorate of Standards and Guidance, the Directorate of Enforcement Programs and the Solicitor’s Office.
During the meeting, several means of addressing employee safety while operating a sweep auger were discussed, including: 1) job safety analysis; 2) lockout/tagout of equipment; 3) confined space entry permits; 4) machine guarding; and 5) providing space between auger and employee while the auger is in use. The NGFA and GEAPS also emphasized that in the preamble of the grain handling standard, OSHA based the final language for Section 1910.272(g)(1)(ii) on comments that more flexibility is needed to protect employees from equipment when working inside bins, silos or tanks.
In its response letter, OSHA stated that an employee cannot work inside a bin while an unguarded sweep auger is in operation. Further, the agency did not offer any other type of procedure to remove grain from a bin if an unguarded auger cannot be used. Further, OSHA did not define what is meant by guarded or unguarded. The NGFA’s Safety, Health and Environmental Quality Committee will meet in February to further discuss the letter of interpretation and identify next steps to address the issue.
After obtaining a copy of OSHA’s letter of interpretation, the NGFA learned that the agency’s Directorate of Enforcement Programs supported many of the recommendations that NGFA and GEAPS made during the August meeting and included them in the first draft of the response letter. However, based upon recent incidents in grain-handling facilities involving falls and engulfments that have resulted in fatalities, the OSHA solicitor’s office changed the agency’s response, banning employees from working inside bins while unguarded sweep augers are operating.