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Grain elevator hazards and employer responsibilities

Employers do not only have a moral responsibility for worker safety. They have a legal responsibility as well. This means more than providing individual safety equipment and instruction. It means maintaining facilities and property to minimize workplace injuries.

An explosion at a grain elevator during the last week of October 2011 emphasizes how some jobs are more dangerous than others. It killed six people. That's a far cry from the 50 people killed across four states in six days late in the 1970s, but it is still six people too many now that safety procedures are well established.

It's hard to imagine that these agrarian symbols can prove as violent as the missiles they resemble. After all, they just hold food, not volatile chemicals. However, the dust a huge volume of grain produces can accumulate in enclosed space. As flammable as any fuel, one spark can ignite it all at once creating a sudden expansion and a blast rivaling any intended bomb.

Only sufficient ventilation and heat control on equipment can prevent such disasters, and maintaining such measures properly is an employer responsibility. Neglecting these measures, as with any workplace safety protocols, can kill. While not as dramatic as grain elevator explosions, any workplace accidents bring a heavy individual and economic toll.

Across the nation, employers paid out almost $1 billion a week in workers' compensation costs in 2008. This figure, though large, does not count other costs and individual expenses in recovering from workplace injuries. It does not count rebuilding damaged facilities and equipment, or vocational rehabilitation when a workplace injury leaves victims unable to work in their regular fields.

Sources: OSHA.gov, "Making the Business Case for Safety and Health"

Associated Press, "Safety measures reduce blasts at grain elevators," Michael J. Crumb, Nov. 1, 2011

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