System Keeps Workers Safe As Trains Roar By

When grain handling facility managers decide to install a fall protection system for workers atop railcars, some report a little resistance from employees who don't want to be bothered with the hassle of putting on a full body harness when there's a unit train to load in 12 hours.

That wasn't the case at Consolidated Grain and Barge Co.'s 2.2-million-bushel grain elevator in Wayne City, Illinois however. Elevator Manager Chuck Long reports that the facility's 11 employees were very grateful to receive the system that was installed at the elevator this past summer. (The elevator has rail capacity to load up to 28 railcars on the Norfolk Southern. Workers use a rail car mover to move cars around.)

"It was very well received here," Long says. "It's only 15 feet from center to center between our loadout track and the Norfolk Southern main line track, the absolute minimum required by federal law. Norfolk Southern sends a lot of freight trains through here at 45 or 50 mph and you can really feel the vibration when they come roaring through here. One wrong step and you're history."

Not to mention the high winds that can funnel between the grain storage tanks lining each side of the tracks and the frequent ice storms that characterize a southern Illinois winter, which can make footing extremely hazardous 16 feet off of the ground.

Company Safety Policy
According to Roger Dowdy, CGB general manager of operations for the company, Consolidated joined a number of major grain handlers in adopting a policy of having fall protection mandated for workers on top of rail cars at every one of its 55 grain handling facilities in 11 states. (CGB is headquartered in Mandeville, LA.)

"Some of our facilities already, had fall protection in place," Dowdy says, "either a permanent hand rail or a cable-and-lanyard type of fall protection system. Our goal was to have all of our facilities equipped with some sort of protection by Sept. 1, and we made the deadline at all but two of our elevators."

An unwritten understanding exists today in many areas of the country between OSHA inspectors and grain handlers in which the interpretation of OSHA regulations regarding fall protection is satisfied by providing coverage over a "minimal practical coverage area" under the loadout spout, plus wherever feasible. For most facilities, that typically is three railcars (180 feet) long. Slower-loading facilities have provided less coverage, but the intention is to protect the worker in the loadout area for as far as he or she will traverse the railcars from that access point.

Wayne City's System
At Wayne City, where Dowdy is based, CGB took bids from various fall protection equipment suppliers and settled on a four-person, eight-column system from Fall Protection Systems.

"Of course, the economic cost was a factor," Dowdy comments. "But we also felt that the protection provided by their system was equal to or better than anything else on the market, and the cast was very comparable to cable-type systems."

Instead of a cable, the Fall Protection Systems unit utilizes a heavy-duty structural steel rail, suspended 27 feet over the track, allowing roughly 12 feet of clearance between the top of a railcar and the trolley beam. Self-retracting lifelines extend from a wheel trolley mounted on the rail. Workers attach these lanyards to a full body harness before stepping out onto the railcar.

According to the manufacturer, one reason a rail system is comparable in cost to a cable system is that a rigid trolley beam will not stretch the way a cable does in the event of a fall. Thus, far less stress is transmitted to the support towers, which in turn, do not require as deep a footing or as much anchoring as the towers supporting a cable system. CGB's unit at Wayne City is supported on a series of eight 30-foot-tall structural steel towers anchored in poured concrete.

The Wayne City unit is split into two sections, running 180 feet east and west from the loadout station in the middle. With a total span of 360 linear feet, the span can cover up to six covered hopper cars at a time. The system is set up for up to two workers on either side of the loadout spout.

"The supplier sent out representatives and provided extensive training for our employees," Long says. "They'll also be testing the system once a year."


This case study was pulled from an article in the September/October 1999 Issue of Grain Journal by Ed Zdrojewski.