Confined Spaces Hold Seen and Unseen Dangers

Byline:

Just hearing the phrase “confined spaces” is enough to send anyone with claustrophobia into a panic. Regardless of how farmers feel about being in tight spaces, however, sometimes it comes with the territory. It’s wise to come up with a safety protocol for working in these conditions before the need arises.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines a confined space as one that is large enough for a person to enter and perform work, but has limited or restricted means for entry or exit and is not designed for someone to be in continually. Examples include an upright silo, manure pump reception pit, and grain bin.

The USDA lists four major dangers for working in confined spaces on the farm: chemicals or gases may displace or consume oxygen, so there may not be enough oxygen to breathe; fires and explosions can happen more easily; toxins in the air can damage the respiratory and nervous systems and even cause death; and physical dangers from moving parts or falls can suffocate or crush a worker.

The USDA recommends identifying confined spaces on your farm and taking steps to prevent accidental entry. Workers who do enter must receive specific training and have a permit to enter. When entering a confined space, workers should:

  • Test the air: Test for oxygen, flammability, and toxicity every 4 feet and in corners.
  • Wear proper equipment: Use the correct respirator and make sure all equipment is tested and grounded.
  • Cut off gas, power, steam, and water lines: Follow lock-out procedures to avoid accidental start-up of equipment, and disconnect and cap all input lines.
  • Use the buddy system: Have at least one trained and equipped coworker standing by in case there’s trouble. Decide ahead of time how to communicate.
  • Remove fire hazards: Use spark-proof tools, lights, and fans.
  • Wear a lifeline: A harness and attached lifeline is key for performing a rescue. Simply putting a rope around the waist isn’t enough. Have ladders and lifts available.
  • Removing a coworker: If a worker must be rescued, never go in after him or her unless another trained and equipped worker is there. Have trained rescuers on standby.

These resources from Successful Farming offer more in-depth information on safety in enclosed work spaces:

Unseen Dangers

Examining the physical stability of the structure to avoid entrapment is probably the first thing most people would consider before getting into a confined space, but the dangers that can’t be seen can cause just as much harm. When entering a manure pit, silo, grain bin, or any building with poor ventilation, a person can be overcome by gases or dust, causing permant lung damage or even death.

The most common dangerous gases on the farm are hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, and carbon dioxide. Hydrogen sulfide is formed when manure decomposes. It has a distinctive rotten-egg smell, but the odor disappears the longer a person is exposed, often creating a false sense of security. In low concentrations, it can cause headaches and nausea; in high concentrations, it is combustible and can suffocate a person. Ammonia, which also has a distinctive odor, can cause eye ulceration, respiratory system irritation, and suffocation. Carbon dioxide is produced during decomposition and respiration of plant materials, and it’s extremely dangerous because it is colorless and odorless. At low levels, it may cause headaches and drowsiness; at levels of 30% or greater, it may cause death by suffocation.

Dusts are also a common hazard on the farm. Breathing dust from moldy forage or feed can lead to Farmer’s Lung, a permanent condition that is often mistaken for bronchitis or pneumonia, but which can cause irreversible lung damage and sometimes death. Less noxious dusts can also decrease lung capacity and cause those exposed to be more susceptible to respiratory infections. Smoking makes the damage even worse.

In order to reduce the risk of lung damage or death, farmers should avoid mold by storing only dry grain and well-cured forages and hay, keeping livestock areas as clean as possible, and wearing disposable dust masks or filter masks. When working in silos, manure pits, and other areas with depleted oxygen, a self-contained breathing apparatus should be used.

Learn more about preventing respiratory illness and death:

LEARN MORE 

The third week in September is recognized as National Farm Safety & Health Week. The National Safety Council and the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety head up the effort to develop and disseminate educational materials leading up to and throughout the week.

This year, the theme of National Farm Safety & Health Week is Shift Farm Safety Into High Gear. Monday, the focus was on tractor and rural roadway safety, Tuesday was opioid addiction and suicide, and Wednesday was farm safety for kids. Friday will focus on safety and health for women in agriculture. Webinars on these topics are available through a partnership with AgriSafe at https://www.agrisafe.org/nfshw-2019. The webinars are free but do require a free AgriSafe account.

More information on National Farm Safety & Health Week, including several safety videos, is available at necasag.org/nationalfarmsafetyandhealthweek/.

National Farm Safety & Health Week 2019
Monday: Brush up on Rural Roadway Safety
Tuesday: Watch for Addiction, Suicide Warning Signs
Wednesday: Keep an Eye on Kids This Week and Every Week

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3 Big Things Today, September 19

Byline:

1. Soybeans, Grains Little Changed in Overnight Trading

Soybean and grain futures were little changed overnight, as investors await news from meetings between U.S. and Chinese negotiators.

A delegation from Beijing is expected in Washington today to continue face-to-face talks for the first time since July. Since then, the countries – the world’s two biggest economies – have imposed more tariffs on each other’s goods.

This week’s negotiations will be among lower-level officials, but will lay the groundwork for scheduled talks in October.

In the past week, the USDA has reported that China bought three cargoes of soybeans totaling 720,000 metric tons, an indication that officials in the Asian nation are keeping a promise they reportedly made to purchase more American agricultural products.

It also may indicate that Beijing’s thus-far hardline stance is softening.

Soybean futures for November delivery fell ½¢ to $8.88¼ a bushel overnight on the Chicago Board of Trade. Soy meal added 70¢ to $296.10 a short ton, while soybean oil lost 0.16¢ to 29.84¢ a pound.

Corn futures for December delivery were unchanged at $3.71¼ a bushel.

Wheat for September delivery rose 2¢ to $4.91½ a bushel, while Kansas City futures gained ¾¢ to $4.10½ a bushel.

**

2. Ethanol Production Drops to Lowest in Five Months, Stockpiles Increase, EIA Says

Ethanol production dropped to a five-month low in the seven days that ended on September 13 while inventories rose, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Output of the biofuel dropped to an average of 1.003 million barrels a day last week, down from 1.023 million the previous week, the EIA said in a report. That’s the lowest level since the seven days that ended on April 5.

In the Midwest, by far the biggest-producing region, production averaged 928,000 barrels a day, down from the previous week’s 949,000 barrels.

Rocky Mountain output declined to 11,000 barrels a day, on average, from 13,000 the prior week, while West Coast production fell to 14,000 barrels a day from 16,000 barrels, the agency said.

East Coast production rose by 2,000 barrels a day, on average, to 27,000 barrels last week, the EIA said. Gulf Coast output also rose, increasing to by 3,000 barrels a day to an average of 23,000 barrels.

Stockpiles, meanwhile, jumped to 23.238 million barrels last week. That’s up from 22.499 million barrels the previous week, according to the government.

In other news, the USDA is expected to release its weekly Export Sales Report this morning.

Analysts have pegged corn sales from 900,000 metric tons to 1.3 million tons, soybean sales from 700,000 to 1.1 million tons, and wheat sales from 300,000 to 600,000 tons, according to researcher Allendale.

**

3. Flash Flood Warnings, Watches Issued For Most of Iowa as Storms Roll Through

The bulk of Iowa is facing flash flood warnings and watches as widespread thunderstorms have developed over the state, according to the National Weather Service.

As much as 2 inches of rain per hour may fall at times as the storms make their way across the state, which could lead to flash flooding, quick increases in stream levels, and flooding of low-lying and poor-drainage areas, the NWS said in a report early this morning.  

The warnings are mostly along the Missouri River on Iowa’s border with Nebraska, but the flash flood watches extend from the southwestern-most counties into some counties in southwestern Wisconsin, the agency’s maps show.

Thunderstorms likely will refire on Saturday morning and afternoon with some storms potentially becoming strong, the NWS said.

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