February 25, 2016

Toxic Gases - The Hidden Danger


Confined spaces on farms pose a serious suffocation or asphyxiation risk to farmers, employees and family members. Grain bins are just one example of the many potentially dangerous confined spaces on farms. These confined spaces produce toxic, oxygen-deficient atmospheres that can quickly overcome anyone who enters--causing almost-instant death or serious bodily injury.

Grain engulfment is the leading suffocation hazard, but suffocation or asphyxiation also occurs when workers are overcome by toxic gases caused by spoiled or deteriorating grain, machinery in use or near grain bins or other problems. If the grain being held in storage is out-of-condition, the potential for carbon monoxide poisoning is high due to decomposition of the grain. If the grain has visible mold growth or there is a musty smell in the bin, one should not enter the bin.

In the absence of visible grain decay, hazardous carbon monoxide build-up is still possible when out-of-condition grain is hidden underneath good grain. That's why it's important not to rely on "warmer-than-expected temperatures" or "higher levels of moisture" as primary indicators. The best and recommended indicator of the atmospheric condition inside a grain bin is to utilize a personal oxygen monitor that accurately tests air quality and warns you of unsafe oxygen levels.

The best approach for preventing tragic accidents is simple: keep out of confined spaces, unless absolutely necessary. This means performing all work from outside of the confined space, whenever possible. It's essential that the seriousness of these hazards are clearly communicated to all workers and family members. The following include grain bin best practices: maintain proper grain management, use a pole from the outside of the grain bin to break up crusted grain, follow safe bin-entry procedures, and restrict bin-entry to proper trained entrants.

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