Up until 1700, when the first scholarly work regarding the diseases suffered by workers was published, few people had given much consideration to the safety of our nation’s workforce as a whole. But Bernardino Ramanzzini, the Italian doctor deemed the “Father of Occupational Medicine” who published the text, knew that workers had their own set of illnesses that were unique to them and the jobs they performed. (1)
For example, the grain industry has numerous risks and potential threats to workers’ health and wellness.
Grains begin as small, dry seeds before the crops are harvested for human or animal consumption. Commercial grain crops are separated into two categories of “cereals” and within each category, there are a multitude of grain types: maize and wheat are examples of grains in the grass family and soybeans are listed among those grains in the legume category. All cereal crops have global demand, so much so that grain commodity markets exist for corn, soybeans, rice and wheat. Sectors within the industry include mills, stores and factories that harvest, clean, transport and sell grain products. (2) Grain is ubiquitous. And, the workers who are at risk are countless.
The two biggest hazards associated with the grain industry both arise from the existence of grain dust: explosions and health complications from inhalation.
Grain dust explosions are often catastrophic events. The dust is highly combustible in any environment where fine particles accumulate and heat is present. (3) The combustion is a rapid event, one that occurs when particulates are suspended in the air, often in an enclosed location. These explosive events can occur anywhere that grain dust is present in combination with various ignitable sources such as uncontrolled heat and oxygen.
The other main health and safety risk facing those in the industry is grain dust inhalation. The dust produced often contains contaminants and additives within the dust, such as bacteria, fungal spores, and residue from pesticides. The adverse effects from grain dust inhalation date back over 2 ½ centuries, to Italy and Ramazzini’s publication on occupational health, the first of it’s kind to highlight the respiratory hazards associated with exposure to cereal grain dust. Modern-day studies have demonstrated that exposure can create severe respiratory distress such as asthma and other COPDs (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Diseases). (4)
Though these risk factors exist, employees needn’t fall victim to the hazards. Employers who safeguard their workplace do so by following OSHA guidelines, below:
- Maintain vigilant cleaning and sanitization practices
- Require workers to wear masks and protective clothing when in the presence of grain dust
- Employ preventative maintenance measures such as keeping grain moist, monitoring heat and IAQ (indoor air quality)
- Install dust ventilation and air cleaning systems
Employers can prevent explosions and dust inhalation from occurring at the outset by simply adopting and maintaining a rigorous program of proactive protective measures.
At Air Systems Inc., we help our customers in the grain industry by identifying areas of potential risk and supplying them with stellar air cleaning products to implement their safety programs so as to protect their workforce. Contact us today for a free estimate with one of our skilled and experienced clean air specialists.