NGFA: OSHA Memo Brings Change to Sweep Auger Interpretation
Date Posted: July 8, 2013
This article is reprinted by permission from the NGFA Volume 65, Number 10, May 16, 2013 Newsletter.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently released its long-awaited sweep auger policy memo, which was developed after a settlement agreement regarding sweep auger citations was reached earlier this year.
Overall, the memo is a very positive step in answering many of the industry’s questions regarding the agency’s sweep auger enforcement policies that have fluctuated over the past several years.
In particular, the document states employees are allowed to be physically inside a bin to operate a mobilized sweep auger provided:
1. the only unguarded portion of the auger is in front;
2. there is an engineering control (such as a portable guard rail or power kill switch) installed to keep an employee from contacting the mobilized auger; and
3. the employee is positioned at least seven feet behind the auger at all times.
In total, there are 10 criteria outlined in the memo regarding employee entry into bins with mobilized sweep augers (including those mentioned above).
Also detailed is compliance with OSHA’s existing bin-entry procedures specified in the grain handling safety standard (e.g., obtaining permits, providing proper entry equipment, stationing trained and equipped observers, etc.).
NGFA outside counsel Marc Fleischaker said a key statement in the memo is that “the mere presence of employees inside a storage facility with an energized auger is insufficient to establish employee exposure.”
In other words, the OSHA memo attempts to provide a “safe harbor.”
But there are items that are not mandatory and represent only good guidance.
As such, enforcement likely will be determined on a case-by-case basis with no single factor predominating.
If an employee is injured or killed inside a bin while a sweep auger is operating, OSHA may find an employee was in the “zone of danger,” Fleischaker noted.
According to Fleischaker, the OSHA memo can be useful for a company that has implemented and is following good safety procedures when an OSHA inspection occurs, provided that an inspection is not predicated on an accident involving an employee injury.