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Ethanol production and employer responsibility

In Iowa, ethanol production is a big deal. In fact, according to the Iowa Corn Growers Association, the state produces almost 30 percent of the nation’s ethanol, and about 43,000 workers in Iowa owe their jobs to this industry. Ethanol has numerous benefits for the environment when it is used as an alternative to gasoline, such as lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

Although ethanol is good for the environment, there are toxic exposure hazards for those who work with it. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration lists a number of dangers that employers must address to keep their workers safe.

Employers must take steps to eliminate, or at least reduce, the amount of a hazardous material that a worker is exposed to, particularly in confined spaces where it can be difficult to avoid contact with a substance. This may be achieved in some degree by ensuring ventilation to prevent poor air quality. Testing must be done before workers enter a confined space and while they are inside. In grain handling facilities, there may be a risk of combustive materials, hazardous gases and low oxygen content, as well as the presence of fumigants and pesticides.

When it is not possible to create a safe atmosphere for workers, employers must provide personal protective equipment, such as respirators. Toxic substances may also be absorbed through the skin and irritate or damage the eyes, so equipment such as gloves, clothing and eyewear may be necessary, as well, and employees should be trained in how to use these effectively. Signs should identify any areas where PPE is needed.

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