Grain News

NGFA: IL OSHA Settlement Brings Potential Changes to Sweep Auger Interpretation

Date Posted: January 28, 2013

Reprinted by permission from the NGFA Newsletter, Volume 65, Number 2, January 24, 2013

In a recent legal settlement, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has incorporated a set of sweep auger safety principles that will allow employees to work inside of grain bin while a “guarded” auger is operating.

These new principles potentially could serve as national guidance for how to perform sweep auger operations in accordance with the grain handling standard (29 C.F.R. 1910.272).

While this agreement was approved by the OSHA National Office, the 2009 letter of interpretation has not been officially withdrawn or replaced by a new guidance document.

As a result, it is not certain yet whether these principles will be applied in the other OSHA regions.


Details of the settlement are discussed further in the Government and Grain accompanying the NGFA Newsletter.

The article was written by attorneys at Epstein Becker & Green who garnered the results summarized below.

The attorneys represented a major grain handler in Illinois that contested sweep auger citations it had received.

They argued that OSHA could not prove employee exposure to a hazard, and were able to agree to settlement terms that would provide guidance to the entire industry about sweep auger operations.

The end result was a settlement that incorporated a set of “Ten Sweep Auger Safety Principles,” which if satisfied, OSHA would allow an employee to work inside a grain bin with an energized sweep auger.

Ten Sweep Auger Safety Principles

The “Ten Sweep Auger Safety Principles” were sent to OSHA’s National Office in Washington, where they were reviewed and approved for purposes of at least this specific settlement.

And according to OSHA’s area director and regional administrator, the OSHA National Office authorized publiction of the 10 principles for the industry’s benefit.

Below is the list of Sweep Auger Safety Principles that OSHA, at the National Office Level, has agreed to as guidance to the industry for how to perform sweep auger operations in compliance with the grain handling standard:

1. No employee shall enter a grain bin until after completion of a bin entry permit, which confirms there are no engulfment and/or atmospheric hazards present inside the storage bin, or unless the employer or the employer’s representative who would otherwise authorize the permit remains present during the entire entry. The grain bin hazard evaluation shall be completed by a qualified person.

2. Before entering the bin to set up or dig out the sweep auger, the subfloor auger and the grain entry points must be de-energized and locked out.

3. Before operating the sweep auger, the grate/guard on the sub-floor auger must be in place and secured.

4. Employees operating the sweep auger cannot walk on the grain, if the depth of the grain presents engulfment hazard.

5. It shall require that the sweep auger is provided with guards and covers per the manufacturers’ design, and the only unguarded portion of the sweep auger is the point of operation.

6. A rescue trained and equipped observer, in accordance with 1910.272(g), must always be positioned outside the storage bin monitoring the activities of all workers inside the bin.

7. If a worker is to enter the bin while the sweep auger is energized, the employer must utilize engineering controls within the grain bin to prevent workers from coming into contact with the energized sweep auger. The use of only administrative controls without the use of an engineering control is not a sufficient means of worker protection. Acceptable engineering controls may include:

a. Sweep auger equipped with an attached guard which prevents the workers contact with the unguarded portion of the auger in accordance with 1910 subpart O.

b. Sweep auger equipped with a control mechanism, such as a dead-man switch or other similar device, which will allow for the sweep auger’s operation only when the operator is in contact with device. If this method is utilized as a means of worker protection, the worker must be positioned at least seven feet from the auger at all times it is energized; moreover, if worker(s) in addition to the operator of the sweep auger are in the bin, additional engineering controls (such as those described in section 7 of this criteria) must be used to protect those worker(s).

c. Portable guardrails are permissible, provided they are placed at least seven feet behind the sweep auger. Note: the use of a warning line, or other easily removable device, other than a portable guardrail, is not considered sufficient engineering controls.

8. The auger must be provided with a positive speed control mechanism or bin stop device that prevents the uncontrolled rotation of the sweep auger.

9. Workers are prohibited from using their hands, legs other similar means to manipulate the sweep auger while it is operating.

10. If maintenance/adjustments are necessary to the sweep auger, the sweep must be unplugged, with the person making the adjustments maintaining the control of the plug, or locked-out in accordance with lock-out/tag-out procedures.

For further information on the history of the sweep auger issue, refer to the March 5, 2012 issue of the NGFA Newsletter or contact NGFA Director of Safety and Regulatory Affairs Jess McCluer at (202) 289-0873 or

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