Rosengren Law Office, LLC

Confined spaces pose workplace injury threats in agriculture

Grain bins, silos and manure pits are but some of the confined spaces that pose deadly hazards to farmworkers in Minnesota. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, there are four primary dangers workers face in confined spaces. They include oxygen starvation if gases or chemicals consume or displace oxygen, explosions and fires, nervous and respiratory damage by toxic air, and crushing or suffocation by tools, equipment or moving parts. Safety authorities require strict protocols to mitigate these workplace injury hazards.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration's definition of a confined space is any space with limited access or egress, though big enough to accommodate a worker, but only for short periods. The USDA says farmers must identify confined spaces, and only allow adequately trained, permit-holding workers to enter. They must be equipped with the appropriate personal protective gear, including respirators where necessary.

The air in confined spaces must be tested for flammability, toxicity and oxygen, and only spark-proof tools must be used -- along with fans. Water, steam, gas and power lines must be shut off, and lockout/tagout procedures must prevent unexpected startup of equipment. Workers in confined spaces must wear lifelines, and work with a trained and equipped buddy outside the space. They should establish communication methods, and only trained rescuers must be allowed to enter confined spaces in emergencies.

Agricultural workers in Minnesota are typically eligible for workers' compensation benefits to cover medical expenses and lost wages after any workplace injury. Dealing with the administrative and legal steps of the benefits claim could be daunting, at a time when the victim would instead focus on recovering and getting back to work. Fortunately, an experienced workers' compensation attorney can navigate the claims process on behalf of the injured worker.

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