There is always potential for the unexpected to happen. It is important to be prepared for when it does.
That is one reason many of Ohio’s grain operations employees and first responders have participated in Bin Entry Tech Rescue Training, a program held in partnership with the Ohio AgriBusiness Association and the Grain Elevator and Processing Society. The four-day program is designed to provide hands-on training for emergency situations at commercial operations and farms. It is held at the Grain Elevator and Processing Society Grain Safety Training Center at Sidney Sunrise location.
The program is conducted by the Safety and Technical Rescue Association (SATRA), and led by professional firefighters. Participants learn about issues surrounding grain bins, Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) standards, air monitoring, and more. They also practice practical skills including rope and harness work and rescue procedures using 130-foot grain bins. Participants work in teams of eight to plan and lead rescues in the bins, with SATRA teachers on-site to monitor and check participants’ work. At the conclusion of the training, participants work through an entire rescue scenario, from the first call through the grain bin rescue.
The training takes time and effort on the part of participants and their employers, but it all pays off in an emergency situation, said Ron Digby from Legacy Farmers Cooperative.
“In the past we have sponsored many firefighters to come through the training in Sidney and we have seen returns on encouraging attendance. Two years ago one of the local fire departments where we had sponsored firefighters to go through the training had a successful grain bin rescue on a local farm that actually was one of our customers,” Digby said. “The firefighters told us they wouldn’t have been able to successfully complete the rescue if we hadn’t paid for them to go through this training. That alone makes it worth all the dollars we invest. We send a lot of our employees and a lot of firefighters from local fire departments that cover any facilities in our area. We like to sponsor them to go do the training because not only does it help to protect our employees, but it also helps to protect our customers.”
In addition to the preparation it offers, the training also sets the stage for the development of a culture of safety preparation, said Jed Bookman, Sunrise Cooperative safety and risk coordinator.
“Some of the benefits we’ve seen from sending employees through the four-day class in Sidney is that employees are actually finding creative, easier, and safer ways to address things like repairs at heights, fumigation, working with bins, sealing bins up, and getting safer, easier access to those hard to reach places. Our employees are able to complete tasks easier, cheaper, faster and safer by applying learned skills and knowledge from the class,” Bookman said. “Additionally, we see a shift in the employee’s outlook on how they perceive risk, and how they perceive certain behaviors as risky. Before, they would do a task and say, ‘Well it’s not a big deal I can do it.’ Now, they know that’s dangerous and they also have the skills and the tools to mitigate that danger and complete that job task safely, quickly, and easier.”
The training meets requirements set by OSHA.
“Every employee that is involved in confined space work needs to be trained and that training is refreshed during certain intervals according to OSHA rules. This training goes well above and beyond the minimum requirements set forth by OSHA,” Bookman said. “If our intent is to satisfy an OSHA rule or requirement that is put upon us, we are wasting our time. This training is going beyond that. We are not only trying to check a box, but we are actually giving that employee those skills and that knowledge do their work safely, but also potentially help a fellow employee, member of the community, or customer in case of an unplanned event.”
Bill Harp, with SATRA, helps with the training that takes place at Sidney. He said the training covers the importance of preparing for the unexpected and encourages participants to play a more direct role in safety.
“This allows them to have a real-life hands-on experience of what it’s like to do work and or rescue at their grain facilities. They are going to learn key components of rescue from heights, confined space rescues, grain engulfment that can happen in the types of activities that they engage in every day. And then if someone becomes injured or ill, it gives them the skill sets that they need to be successful in helping their co-worker,” Harp said. “We’ve had lots of our students that really never even thought about joining a local fire service, but after taking these rescue classes have gone on to support their community and in fact be a part of the local fire department.”
Time management is so important in the early stages of an emergency and the training emphasizes the wise use of the crucial first minutes.
“That first four or five minutes of an event is going to let you know what will happen in the next four to five hours,” Harp said.
The training also highlights the importance of good working relationships between customers, the company, surrounding companies, and the fire departments when preparing for an emergency related to grain safety.
“We want those entities to be happy to see each other. We want it to be like old friends,” Harp said. “The comfort level with the local fireman and the workers that are at that facility, and their ability to interact together, is vital for these successful rescues. They need each other. We are hoping that by bringing all of those outside entities in on the front side, that everyone knows what their capabilities, rules, duties, and responsibilities are going to be during one of these events as they unfold.”
Having the proper equipment for handling emergency situations is also important for proper preparation.
“We work very closely with the safety directors of many grain companies. And lots of times when they are going to buy one of anything they actually buy three. They buy one for a spare that they can train with, one that they put in their equipment cache for rescues, and they donate one to the local fire department,” Harp said. “And that way everyone is used to that equipment and they’ve all been trained on it together. If the rescue isn’t at that facility but it’s at one of their farmer’s facilities, then as they show up and attempt to render aid they’re able to use all that equipment and be familiar with it.”
Training, relationship building and securing the proper equipment before an emergency situation happens are all vital components in preventing tragedies and getting to an outcome everyone can live with.
“You know many of these facilities have an incredibly good track record for safety, and they can say we’ve never had a significant event here in 25 years, and we certainly celebrate that,” Harp said. “What all facilities need to remember is the potential is still the same. They need to be able to perform a rescue and also develop the ability to work safer in their duties on an ongoing daily basis. That is really what we are trying to accomplish with this four-day training.”
This is the fourth story in a series of safety related articles in cooperation with the Ohio AgriBusiness Association and its members.