Digging In: The Urgent Need for Grain Bin Safety - Crucial Safeguards for Protecting Lives and Livelihoods
Grain bin safety is a serious concern that is often overlooked. Don't wait until a preventable accident occurs to take grain bin safety seriously. Peter Johnson and Lee Tilleman welcome Ken MacDonald to Alliant Agribusiness and discuss the urgent need for increased awareness during Grain Bin Safety Week. With the rise in inspections and regulatory actions this year, there's never been a better time to prioritize safety and protect both lives and livelihoods.
You are listening to Digging In, where we dig into the insurance topics, trends and news surrounding all things Agribusiness.
Peter Johnson (00:15):
Hello everyone and welcome back to Digging In. I'm your host, Peter Johnson, managing director of Alliant Agribusiness. With me today is Lee Tilleman and one of our newest members, Ken MacDonald. Welcome, Ken.
Ken MacDonald (00:30):
Thank you very much. Appreciate being here.
Lee Tilleman (00:33):
Ken, welcome to Alliant. We're super excited to have you, with the background that you have, and it being National Grain Bin Safety Week. We thought it was timely to talk to you about some of the current events that are happening and the importance of Grain Bin Safety Week. Maybe you can start off by just giving us a little background on yourself, what your history is.
Ken MacDonald (00:52):
Sure. For 25 years, I was a farmer, started in California, pretty much everything, trees, vines, turf, grow crop, I've grown it. So, I come to the business with that part in mind. Back in the day, I also then became a regulator with the state and the feds there in North Dakota. I had state and federal credentials for pesticide, feed and fertilizer. And so, I went over to that side for 10 years and then was hired back into the other side where I became a risk control person for a large company with grain. And so, using that, I have been able to parlay that into being able to talk to both sides and getting each other to talk to one another where it benefits the safety of the whole entire group.
Lee Tilleman (01:44):
Excellent background for sure. With your background and it being Grain Bin Safety Week, tell us your thoughts about the importance of this week and how it can affect the grain industry.
Ken MacDonald (01:55):
Yeah, right now, it's running the 19th through the 25th. It's a very big piece of the awareness group that we need to get out there better. It's one of the things that fails most often. Generally, not so much on the commercial side, but on the private side with farmers, it can be a very dramatic thing. Someone may go down or be engulfed or overtaken by hydrogen sulfide gas there in a bin. Then the next family member falls in or goes in to try to rescue and things like that. On the commercial side, it's a two-part system where we've got what we call confined space permits. We've got issues where we're trying to decide is it safe to go in? Is there a hazard that we need to deal with? Could it be atmospheric, could it be slope sides? And for those that we deal with, it's one of the most overlooked things.
Three years ago, a gentleman I knew was engulfed and passed away. Which - there's three groups that need to be working in concert together when they're out there and one is the attendant and he or she is the one, one that's actually watching what's going on, they're the eyes and ears of the operation. The supervisor, they can be somewhere on site, but they're the ones that are going to call emergency services if needed. And then there's the entrant and they're the ones doing the job. And a lot of times when I come up to a bin when people are working in it, the attendant is not there or they're not paying attention and they're on the phone or they're videoing or they're doing something, and when those happen, then someone inevitably gets hurt. And that's what we're working to fix right now with the safety week.
Lee Tilleman (03:31):
Obviously, the seriousness of this issue or this topic hits home when you lose someone that you know, and it could have been prevented. There seems to be an underlying theme with Grain Bin Safety Week and there is a difference between regulations for farm versus commercial, and you kind of touched on that already. Is that pretty consistent through all compliance, do you feel?
Ken MacDonald (03:55):
Yes and no. The private groups, the private farmers, they tend to not be inspected as much and maybe not follow things as well as they should. The commercial guys, they are following most of the rules, most of the time. But we are finding right now that in our industry here in Washington, our OSHA is actually going out and doing more inspections right now for confined space, and as such, they are enforcing it down to the level that has always been there but never been enforced before, which is just breaking the plane. And once you break that plane, you have made an entrance and as such they are watching and they are actually writing violations right now to commercial operations. They could be pretty hefty, and again, it's just looking inside a bin from above and outside, but just breaking that plane has caused quite a bit of commotion right now.
Lee Tilleman (04:50):
So, explain that a little bit more about breaking the plane. Are you speaking of the actual entrance into the bin itself?
Ken MacDonald (04:58):
That's correct. It's the hatch on top, and generally, all that's for is to look in. You're not supposed to enter a bin once it's been filled, and you don't want to be walking on it in case the grain is bridged. But what they're doing is, is just looking to see what the level is, the inventory inside the bin and just that little bit, or maybe even sticking a hand or finger inside just that hatch, there, is constituting an entry. And by law it is correct, it is an entry, but it's just never been enforced this hard, this early. So, it's led to some substantial fines. One group was $27,000 and really there was no physical harm that could come to them, but it is the rule, the law, that you cannot break the plane and that's what they were doing.
Lee Tilleman (05:47):
Sure. You kind of touched on some of the recent events or focus of local regulators and inspectors. Are there some other trends that you're seeing out there?
Ken MacDonald (05:58):
There are several trends coming out right now. In the past week, I've sat in on two inspections that were being done. The client called, asked me to show up and I went there and sat in on the meetings that OSHA was having with them. Fall protection is now becoming an issue as well and it's now being enforced. Dust is another one that's being enforced right now. The rules in the grain industry are, no more than an eighth of an inch of dust can be on any surface during the working time, and they are enforcing this, and they are also enforcing the respiratory program, which always causes a lot of angst within the farming industry because everyone has beards and respirators don't work on beards. So, this is the most inspections or regulatory actions that I've seen this early in a year and we got a long way to go.
Lee Tilleman (06:52):
For sure. You had mentioned that you sit in on the meetings. What are some of the other things that you do for your clients?
Ken MacDonald (06:59):
Well, I work what we call a binder system. It breaks down into emergency action plans, lockout/tagout, confined space, bloodborne pathogens, security, all these different items that OSHA requires that a commercial operation be involved in. Washington requires an accident prevention program, they're one of the few, so I do that for them. Forklift training, if they're fumigating, fumigant management plans, things like that, and that's the paper side of it and it works out very well.
Lee Tilleman (07:31):
Excellent. Well, obviously with the increased compliance that we're seeing lately, your services bring a huge value to our clients and very worthwhile. Kind of circling back to the Grain Bin Safety Week, if you were to pick one thing that they should be doing around grain bin safety, what would you say?
Ken MacDonald (07:49):
Take it more seriously than they do. If you go on things like YouTube, things like that, you can see videos all the time of people, young men, women, sons and daughters that are actually in the bins. You can see rotten grain stuck on the walls. You can see the walls themselves just covered in grain, which is an engulfment hazard. You can see them in there while they're kickstarting the auger that's on the floor. It needs to be taken more seriously. I remember one day I was interviewing a gentleman and I was talking to him about his bin entries, and he said he doesn't, you know, he doesn't let his people go in. And then I said, well, I just saw a guy in one of your bins. And he says, well, when I see them in there, I kick them out. And so that tells me it wasn't being taken seriously and it needs to be, and they need to have the proper equipment and they need to have their air monitors and the attendant needs to be paying attention. Those are all things that, generally, are not really paid attention to as well as they should be, and it needs to improve.
Lee Tilleman (08:51):
Great. That's great advice. We appreciate your time and you sharing your knowledge with us. I think this has been a very productive podcast and I think a lot of people are going to find a lot of value in it.
Peter Johnson (09:03):
Well, thank you everybody for attending. Thank you, Lee. Thank you, Ken. For more information, please reach out to us on alliant.com/agribusiness.
Thanks for your message.
We’ll be in touch shortly.
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