Joe Mlynek: OSHA's Inspection Playbook - Best Practices For Common Inspection Focuses

If you are concerned about an inspection from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), there is good news. OSHA Instruction CPL 02-01-004 is OSHA’s playbook when it comes to inspecting grain handling facilities.

This article focuses on several critical areas commonly included in the inspection process and best-practice recommendations for compliance.


The standard for grain handling facilities, 29 CFR 1910.272, was promulgated on Dec. 31, 1987 and became effective March 30, 1988. Although the final rule applies to all grain handling facilities, it is not a true vertical standard, since it is not intended to address all hazards found in these types of work environments. Therefore, be advised that other standards contained in 29 CFR Part 1910 for general industry and 29 CFR Part 1917 for marine terminals continue to apply to grain handling facilities.

However, 29 CFR 1910.272 does take precedence inside grain handling facilities over other provisions in 29 CFR 1910 and 29 CFR 1917 for the specific hazards the grain standard addresses.

Emergency Action Plans

OSHA 29 CFR 1910.272 requires a written emergency action plan for employers with more than 10 employees. Employers with 10 or fewer employees still have to comply with the 29 CFR 1910.38 (Emergency Action Plans) requirements and be able to substantiate that the plan is being communicated orally in an effective manner.

All employees, including truck drivers, sales and office personnel, seasonal employees, and part-time employees must be included when determining the total number of employees at the workplace. It is a recommended best practice that grain handlers develop a written emergency plan, regardless of the number of employees, and train all employees routinely on the procedures within the plan.


In addition to the applicable training requirements outlined in 29 CFR 1910 General Industry, such as hazard communication, walking/working surfaces, lockout/tagout, etc., employees must be trained in the recognition and prevention of hazards associated with grain handling facilities, especially those hazards associated with their own work tasks.

A Certified Safety and Health Official (CSHO) can verify that employees are trained in all aspects of their job tasks, including bin entry and how not to introduce ignition sources through the use of electric tools, welding, cutting, use of open flames, or smoking in hazardous areas. The standard does not require that training records be kept; however, doing so is a recommended best practice.

A CSHO will substantiate training adequacy by reviewing the employer’s training records, if offered by the employee, or by interviewing a sample of employees.

Hot Work Permits

The standard does require that employers issue a permit for hot work, except where the employer’s representative, who would otherwise authorize the permit, is present while the hot work is being performed. Welding shops authorized by the employer and hot work areas authorized by the employer outside of the grain handling structure are excluded from the requirements. If a permit process is implemented, it must certify that the requirements contained in CFR 1910.252 Welding Cutting and Brazing are implemented and being followed.

If an employer elects to have a representative present instead of a permit, the employer must still follow the same requirements as if a permit were issued under CFR 1910.252. It is a recommended best practice that a permit is issued each time hot work is performed in required areas. While there is no requirement for permit retention, permits should be kept on file for a period of time that can demonstrate compliance with the standards.

Bin Entry Permits

A written bin entry permit is not required if the employer or representative, who would otherwise be authorized to issue the entry permit, is present during the entire entry. All other precautions contained within 1910.272(g) still must be followed.

It is a recommended best practice that a permit process be implemented for entry into grain storage structures regardless of whether the employer or representative is present during the entire entry. While there is not a requirement for permit retention, it is also recommended that permit documentation be kept on file for at least one year.

The CSHO also may ask the employer to verify procedures to ensure that atmospheric testing equipment used to determine hazardous atmospheres – including fumigants, oxygen deficiency, etc. – are calibrated and maintained properly. While there are no specific requirements within the standard for documenting calibration, it is a recommended best practice that calibration activities be documented.


The standard requires employers to provide specific instruction to contractors on the safety rules of a facility, including applicable provisions of an emergency action plan. Simply providing a copy of the safety program would not ensure that the contractor has received sufficient information for taking adequate precautions to prevent hazard exposure.

It is a recommended best practice that employers meet with contractor employees prior to working at the facility to communicate and review safety requirements and potential hazards. It also is recommended to document the subject matter discussed during the meeting, those in attendance, hazards, and all facility safety requirements discussed.


The standard requires that the employer develop and implement a written housekeeping program that establishes the frequency and methods determined to best reduce the accumulation of fugitive grain dust on ledges, floors, equipment, and other exposed surfaces. The program also must address fugitive dust accumulation in priority areas.

The use of compressed air to blow dust from ledges, walls, and other areas shall be permitted only when all machinery that presents an ignition source in the area is shut down and all other known potential ignition sources in the area are removed or controlled. While not required, the use of a compressed air cleaning or “blowdown” permit is a recommended best practice to ensure and demonstrate compliance with the standard.

Preventive Maintenance

The standard requires regularly scheduled inspections of at least the mechanical and safety control equipment associated with dryers, grain stream processing equipment, dust collection equipment, and bucket elevators.

A certification record must be maintained for each inspection containing the date of inspection, name of the person who performed the inspection, and the serial number or other identifier of the equipment. The standard does not require a specific frequency for preventive maintenance. The CSHO will analyze the program based on the time period. The program must be adequate for peak periods, such as harvest.

Joe Mlynek is president and safety and loss control consultant for Progressive Safety Services LLC, Port Clinton, OH; 216-403-9669; and content creation expert for Safety Made Simple, Olathe, KS.

- From the September/October 2021 GRAIN JOUNRNAL