Safe Grain Handling
Most farmers handle grain. They grow it, store it, mill it and use it as animal feed. Manually handling sacks of grain can lead to muscle strains and injuries. But even automatic grain handling poses severe Health Risks. One of the most dangerous causes of such problems is grain dust.
DustGrain dust comes from maize and cereal crops. It consists of plant particles, dry pesticide residues, fungi, mould spores, bacteria and insects.
Inhaling grain dust can give rise to bronchitis, asthma and a condition known as grain fever. Mould spores from grain dust may cause a potentially deadly disease called Farmer’s Lung. This is why the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) class grain dust as a Hazardous Substance. A farmer should therefore conduct a risk assessment of exposure to grain dust. If dust is present on a farm, respiratory protective equipment (RPE) can help ensure safe grain handling and good health. There are other measures, however, that farmers should first introduce:
Harvesting GrainThese measures include using combine harvesters and tractors that have cabs with air filtration systems. The operators should remain in their cabs while working. They should not expose themselves to dust. Farmers or contractors should also put dust sleeves over the augers that unload the grain.
Grain TransferThe grain goes from the fields to a store and the transfer process is likely to raise dust. Grain conveying machinery should have covers to limit dust exposure. There should be extractor fans to draw any dust out of the store. Any vehicles that move grain inside a store should have cabs with air filtration systems.
CleaningGrain stores must be clean. Brooms raise dust, however. Farm workers should therefore use industrial vacuum cleaners.
DampnessDampness in a grain store can turn grain or dust mouldy. This mould may release harmful spores into the air. Farmers must cure any grain store dampness immediately.
Grain BinsWith grain bins, it may not be possible to use an industrial vacuum cleaner. Farmers should employ portable dust extractors instead.
Feeding GrainFeeding milled grain to animals raises dust. Farmers should consider reducing the risks by using wet feed or feeds such as nuts. Another option is to mix molasses into the milled grain, the molasses help suppress any dust.
Milling and MixingThe grain milling and mixing process inevitably creates dust. An automatic system that transfers grain from the store to the milling and mixing units reduces workers’ exposure. The system should have covers and dust bags at appropriate points. The best way of cleaning the milling and mixing areas is with an industrial vacuum cleaner.
Employers’ ResponsibilitiesThe COSHH Regulations give employers clear responsibilities.
Where there is a risk of dust inhalation, employers must check to see if those who work with grain have respiratory problems. Employers must also make sure that workers know the symptoms of respiratory diseases.
Workers should complete an annual questionnaire about such symptoms. Occupational Health nurses or doctors can give advice about the content of the questionnaires.