WASHINGTON (March 13, 2014) – The National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) recently published a sweep auger guide designed to assist grain handlers in developing and implementing a sweep auger operations safety policy.
The guide is available for free on the NGFA website.
“Over the past several years, there has been uncertainty within the industry regarding what type of sweep auger equipment can be used, and the types of procedures that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) may find acceptable,” said NGFA Director of Safety and Regulatory Affairs Jess McCluer. “This guide was developed to help the industry navigate OSHA’s new policy for operating sweep augers safely inside grain bins.”
About the Guide
The NGFA guide reviews the 10 criteria outlined in a recent OSHA National Office memorandum issued in May 2013 to its regional administrators regarding employee entry into bins with mobilized sweep augers. The criteria in the memo are based upon a recent settlement between OSHA and a NGFA-member company.
For example, under the OSHA policy memo, employees are allowed to be physically inside a bin with an energized sweep auger, provided:
- the only unguarded portion of the auger is in front;
- sub-floor augers are guarded by secure grates or other guards;
- there is an engineering control (such as a standard guardrail attached to the auger, a portable guardrail trailing seven feet behind the auger, or a dead-man’s switch on an operating control inside an enclosure or attached to a handle that keeps the employee seven feet back from the auger); and
- the facility’s OSHA bin entry permit procedures are followed.
- Also detailed in the NGFA guide is compliance with OSHA’s existing bin-entry procedures specified in the agency’s grain handling standard [29 CFR 1910.272], such as requirements for obtaining bin-entry permits, providing proper entry equipment, stationing trained and equipped observers outside the bin, and other requirements.
The guide also contains a sample sweep auger policy template based upon the 10 points in the OSHA memo that may be useful to managers in developing and implementing such a policy at their facilities.
In 2009, OSHA issued a letter of interpretation that essentially created a new policy for operating sweep augers inside grain bins. In its 2009 letter, OSHA stated an employee could not work inside a bin with an energized sweep auger, unless the auger was “completely guarded.” At that time, the agency did not offer any acceptable alternative procedures for removing grain from a bin if a partially guarded auger could not be used. Nor did OSHA define what was meant by completely guarded or unguarded.
Prior to the letter, it was common practice in the industry to “guard,” or cover the top and back of the sweep auger while it was in operation. Following the 2009 letter, OSHA stated that the entire auger, including the front, needed to be covered, even though a sweep-auger cannot properly function if the front is covered in this manner. Thereafter, OSHA issued numerous citations to grain-handling facilities for allowing employees to work around what the agency referred to as “unguarded” sweep augers. This caused confusion within the industry, since many were unsure of what types of sweep-auger equipment and procedures OSHA may find acceptable.
However, after an NGFA-member company challenged citations issued by an OSHA area office, the area office entered into settlement discussions and subsequently developed a 10-point settlement agreement outlining procedures required if employees are to be present inside a bin with an operating sweep auger. That settlement agreement subsequently was memorialized by OSHA headquarters in a May 2013 memo to its regional administrators clarifying the agency’s sweep auger enforcement policy.