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Use protective gear to avoid inhaling grain dust

COLUMBIA– Dust flies everywhere when combining, loading, unloading and drying grain.

Farmworkers can reduce its effects by wearing protective gear, says University of Missouri Extension state health and safety specialist Karen Funkenbusch.

During Farm Safety & Health Week, Sept. 20-26, review the respiratory hazards of farming with family members and farmworkers, Funkenbusch says.

Always wear a dust mask when working around grain, she says. Farm employers should require workers on-site to wear protective gear. It protects their health and wealth by preventing injury, illness and unnecessary medical bills.

Grain dust contains plant materials, mold spores, insect parts and their excretions, bacteria and soil.

Dust causes wheezing, sore throat, eye and nose irritation, and congestion. Mold grows in hay, grain and silage in poorly ventilated storage areas. Mold spores attach to dust.

“If entering a moldy grain bin, workers should be equipped with a high-efficiency respirator capable of filtering fine dust,” Funkenbusch says. She also recommends ventilating fumigated bins for several hours before entering.

Respirators come in a variety of types, sizes and costs at farm supply stores, ag chemical suppliers, hardware stores or safety equipment companies. Choose one that fits securely around the mouth and nose.

Always “try before you buy,” Funkenbusch says. Have a trained person perform a fit test. A correctly fitted respirator makes a good seal with your face.

To do a fit test on your own, put on the respirator and place your palm over the exhale port. During exhalation, the respirator should push out slightly from your face. Next, cover the inhale ports, or filters, and inhale and hold for 10 seconds. The respirator should suck back onto your face and maintain good suction for the entire 10 seconds. If you don’t get a good seal, adjust the straps and reposition the respirator.

If you smell or taste a contaminant or become dizzy while wearing a respirator, get out of the area and into fresh air immediately.

Glasses, gum, chewing tobacco and facial hair interfere with proper sealing. Wear respirators on clean-shaven faces. Use adaptors if you wear glasses. Avoid contact lenses because contaminants can stick to them and cause eye damage.

Periodically check your respirator for damage and dirt. Don’t try to repair or substitute non-manufacturer parts. Clean the respirator often in warm, soapy water. When dry, store in a sealed plastic bag.

Make it a habit to grab it before working near grain. “Respirators can prevent many respiratory ailments associated with farming–but only if you wear one!” Funkenbusch says.

“If you maintain and clean it regularly, the small investment that a respirator costs you now might save you and your family the expense of large medical bills later in life,” she says.

Funkenbusch suggests the following safety tips for harvest time:

  • Clean combine air filters before and during harvest.
  • Adjust combine settings to reduce grain damage that will produce dust.
  • Dry and ventilate grain properly before storing.
  • Properly ventilate storage buildings.
  • Wet down feed before transferring.
  • Wet down bins when cleaning them out.

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