Knowledge can lessen the danger
Everyone knows that late planting in 2013, higher moisture crops at harvest and lower commodity prices were the "perfect storm" to encourage farmers to store their crops into 2014.
Farmers are now spending winter months monitoring grain quality while minding storage costs and market prices. However, the biggest cost of storage could be your life if you climb inside the bin to check the status of the grain and an accident happens.
"We know after a season like we had in 2013 that there are going to be more accidents and more farmers injured or even killed, says Jeff Decker, product safety manager with GSI, a manufacturer of grain bin systems.
Along with wetter corn, you have more fines, debris and foreign matter being unloaded into the bin, which causes the grain to crust if it isn’t properly managed, he explains. Chunks of spoiled grain can plug up wells, sending farmers inside the grain bin to try to unclog the loading system.
So how careful is careful enough when it comes to climbing inside a bin? "When it comes to the importance of grain bin safety, we’ve got some bins that are covered by OSHA rules, but on the family farm where OSHA’s not covering, it’s important for those folks to know the proper procedures for entering into a bin," says Dan Neenan, director of the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety (NECAS).
Here are several ways you can be safer when working with stored grain:
- Don’t enter a grain bin unless absolutely necessary.
- If you must enter, use lock-out and tag-out procedures to disengage power to motors and sweep augers.
- When entering, wear a safety harness secured with a rope to the outside of the bin.
- Have two observers—one on the ground and one at the top of the bin—to watch you and to help if you get in trouble. If problems arise, they should not join you inside the bin but summon help instead.
- Use a long pole to break up bridges of crusted grain, rather than using your own weight.
- Attend a training session hosted by a co-op or county Extension, and make sure your local fire department/rescue squad has proper tools and training.
Take time to learn. Education to help farmers understand how grain moves in a bin and the best exit strategies are crucial.
"Most people don’t realize that they will be entrapped in grain when it reaches just above the knees," Neenan says. "With our simulator, we sink people down about to their belly button, and they can’t move. They are surprised by that!"
The strength needed to pull a 165-lb. person out of a grain bin quickly increases as he or she sinks deeper into the grain.
The good news is that the trainings that GSI, NECAS and even many local hospitals are doing across rural America are helping to make sure that any grain bin accident that does happen has a more successful ending.
Grain bin manufacturers and technology companies are helping the cause, too. New technologies such as temperature and moisture cables can help farmers monitor grain—even into the center of the bin.
"They monitor the moisture and temperature of the grain, keep an eye on the outside ambient temperature and relative humidity, and will run fans or heaters to condition the air going into the bin to keep the grain in good condition," Decker says.
The new technologies can be retrofitted on existing bins or sold with new systems. When asked whether it is cost efficient, Decker says, "Initially, it might seem a little expensive, but if you look at the cost of the system spread over a few years, farmers will definitely be able to justify it."
Three Ways People Are Trapped
- Don’t stand in the grain bin while unloading grain; those kernels can be like quicksand.
- While attempting to break the crusted bridge of grain with the weight of your body, you fall down into the bin.
- Dislodging grain on the side of the bin causes an avalanche or vertical entrapment.
You can e-mail Pam Fretwell at firstname.lastname@example.org.