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How To Prevent Tragedy In The Storage Hoppers In Your Workplace

If you are the safety manager for a facility that uses hoppers to store food items, such as flour and sugar, it's important that you have a safety program for workers to implement as they work around and above the hoppers in your facility. In 2013, a worker fell into a sugar hopper and died of suffocation due to the sugar engulfing him. Here are a few ways you can prevent this type of tragedy in your workplace. 

Install fall protection equipment above the hoppers

The openings at the tops of the hoppers should be protected to prevent workers from falling in. This can include devices such as guardrails and safety platforms for the workers to stand on while they perform tasks. Safety harnesses should be attached to the guardrails so the workers can utilize them in case they need to reach into the hoppers to break up clumps. 

Install emergency escape openings at the bottoms of the hoppers

Hoppers are configured in a funnel-like shape, which can be dangerous to anyone who gets trapped inside them. If possible, install emergency escape hatches near the bottoms of the hoppers so anyone trapped inside can escape easily. While opening the escape hatch will cause the materials inside the hoppers to also fall out, escape hatches may be the only way to prevent death for anyone who falls into the hopper. 

To do this, the contents of the hoppers will need to be drained so a steel fabricator can install an emergency escape hatch. Even though this will likely cause downtime in your facility's operations, it can protect your company's bottom line in the long run by preventing unnecessary fatalities. 

Install weight sensors to detect unexpected changes inside the hoppers 

Install weight sensors that will set off alarms if the weight inside the hoppers increases or shifts unexpectedly. An audible alarm can alert others that someone may be trapped inside a hopper. A flashing light located on top of the hopper with the unexpected weight increase or shift can help workers identify which hopper needs immediate attention. 

The alarms can be configured to automatically shut down other equipment that is used during operation within your facility. For example, in a food manufacturing facility, hoppers are designed to expel a certain amount of goods at various intervals; however, this can displace the goods inside the hopper, which can cause someone inside to become trapped further. Having the equipment shut down when weight discrepancies are recorded will help prevent this problem. 

Conduct regular training sessions for all employees, including temporary workers 

Train your employees on a regular basis while paying close attention to those who are new on the job, people who have a temporary worker status, and workers who do not speak English as their first language. Do not allow anyone who has not received the appropriate training to work above or around hoppers. All temporary workers must receive training prior to their first day on the job. 

Identify those who may have a language barrier and provide them with the training materials in their first languages. If necessary, hire a translator to work with you in making sure the workers understand the importance of safety in your workplace. 

The training sessions should comply with OSHA standards and include information regarding hazards of working above and around hoppers. Teach the workers to identify various unsafe conditions and immediately report the unsafe conditions to their supervisors. 

Conduct training sessions to ensure workers know how to appropriately use fall protection equipment. It's also important to make sure all workers have appropriately-sized harnesses available to them before they work above hoppers, including temporary workers who may only be in your facility for a short time.