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October 2013 Archive for Farm Talk on the Front Porch

RSS By: Grinnell Mutual, AgWeb.com

You face risks as you cultivate crops and raise livestock. We’ll share tips, stories and recommendations to help you protect property and prevent costly losses on the farm. It's our Policy of Working Together®.

Safe work practices in grain handling facilities can save lives

Oct 31, 2013

Grain storage bin entry is very dangerous and exposes workers to serious suffocation hazards - a leading cause of fatalities on the farm. Suffocation can occur when workers are engulfed (buried or covered) by grain or when bins develop hazardous atmospheres or a lack of oxygen.

There are four senarios. In Figure 1, flowing grain can bury a worker in seconds. In Figure 2, a "bridging" condition results in engulfment. In Figure 3, Accumulation on the a bin side results in engulfment. Figure 4 illustrates a successful rescue of a worker during a "bridging" condition.Engulfment can occur when a worker does the following: 

  • Stands on moving/flowing grain (see figure 1). The moving grain acts like "quicksand" and buries the worker in seconds. 
  • Stands on or below a "bridging" condition (see figure 2). "Bridging" occurs when grain clumps together, because of moisture or mold, creating an empty space beneath the grain as it is unloaded. If a worker stands on or below the "bridged" grain, it can collapse, either under the worker’s weight or unexpectedly, thus, burying the worker. 
  • Stands next to an accumulated pile of grain on the side of the bin (see figure 3). The grain pile can collapse onto the worker unexpectedly or when the worker attempts to dislodge it. 

The grain’s behavior and weight make it extremely difficult for a worker to get out of the grain without assistance. Tragically, incidents in grain bins often result in multiple fatalities because coworkers attempt rescue and fall victim as well. These fatalities are preventable if employers follow work practices and provide training and equipment as required by OSHA’s Inspection of Grain Handling Facilities standard, 29 CFR 1910.272. 

Where workers enter storage bins, employers must: 

  • De-energize (turn off) and disconnect, lockout and tag, or block off all mechanical, electrical, hydraulic and pneumatic equipment that presents a danger, particularly grain-moving equipment. Grain must not be emptied or moved into or out of the bin while workers are inside because it creates a suction that can pull the worker into the grain in seconds. 
  • Prohibit walking down grain and similar practices where a worker walks on grain to make it flow. 
  • Prohibit entry onto or below a bridging condition, or where grain is built up on the side of the bin.


Annie’s Project helps Grinnell Mutual employees preserve agricultural lifestyle

Oct 29, 2013

 Life changes in an instant.  That’s what Grinnell Mutual Telecommunications Specialist Janet Dimit realized when her husband was diagnosed with lung cancer five years ago.   The survival rate was just 15 percent.  As a non-smoker, her husband received a good prognosis following surgery and celebrated his sixth year in remission this year.  Still, the experience left Dimit thinking about the future.

"At the time I thought, ‘if something happens to Mark, I’ve got to hold our farm together.  We have employees depending on us.’  I’ve always been involved with our farm, but I realized I needed to be more active in managing the farm," explained Dimit, who now handles the bookkeeping for their operation.

For Dimit, participating in Annie’s Project this spring provided an opportunity to sharpen valuable farm management skills.  Even more so, it opened the door to meet other women who shared her passion – running a family farm.

Empowering women in agriculture

During February and March 2012, the Iowa State Extension office sponsored Annie’s Project, a six-week course designed for women to develop their farm management skills.  Each week, 13 women gathered at Iowa Valley Community College in Grinnell to hear guest speakers and network with their peers.  Dimit, as well as Business Analyst Erica Urfer, participated in the program.

Grinnell Mutual employees Erica Urfer and Janet Dimit attended Annie’s Project classes, an educational program for women to enhance their farm business skills.  Urfer and her husband own a farm, as well as rent land, run a cow-calf operation, and do some custom farming — all after they finish their town jobs.  Dimit and her husband grow corn, soybeans, and alfalfa.  They also raise feeder calves. "I knew the basics of farm management before beginning the program, but Annie’s Project enhanced my farm business knowledge," said Urfer.  "I grew up on a farm but didn’t pick up the business skills until I married a farmer.  Annie’s Project was started for women just like me so we don’t have to experience all of the learning curves of farm management by ourselves."

The namesake of Annie’s Project, Annette Fleck (1922-1997), was a pioneering woman during some difficult days in agriculture.  Annie and her husband lived on a farm in northern Illinois where she meticulously kept records.  Soon, those records began successfully guiding their business decisions.

Annie’s daughter, Ruth, also farmed and worked as an educator for the University of Illinois Extension.  Following her 30-year career, she founded Annie’s Project in 2009.  Annie’s Project is currently offered in 27 states.

"During class, we took part in several hands-on activities," explained Dimit.  "For instance, we used Iowa State University’s online Ag Decision Maker to run a cash-rent estimator and farm land purchase analysis.  Those online tools are very helpful."

"My husband and I stayed up until midnight after the first class playing with the rental analysis.  We already put it into practice for our farm operation this spring," agreed Urfer.

The group also discussed marketing grain, preparing financial statements, credit-ranking, and estate planning, among other topics. Following the program’s completion, participants continue receiving notices of other local conferences.

"I would recommend Annie’s Project to any woman who is interested in expanding her knowledge.  Not only was it beneficial because of the tools that were provided, but it also opened doors to additional learning opportunities," said Urfer.  "This experience has opened my eyes to how much I can learn from conferences and even from other farmers.  My husband and I have only had our own operation for eight years, so we want to learn as much as we can so we never have to worry about losing our farm."

"The most valuable part of Annie’s Project was networking with other women who are as passionate about farming as I am," said Dimit.  "Farming is truly a way of life.  It’s really hard to imagine my life any other way."

Attend Annie’s Project

To learn more about Annie’s Project and find classes near you, go to the Iowa State Extension Service website at http://www.extension.iastate.edu/annie/upcomingclasses.html.

Photo caption:  Grinnell Mutual employees, Erica Urfer and Dimit, attended Annie’s Project classes, an educational program for women to enhance their farm business skills.  Urfer and her husband own a farm, as well as rent land, run a cow-calf operation, and do some custom farming — all after they finish their town jobs.  Dimit and her husband grow corn, soybeans, and alfalfa.  They also raise feeder calves. 


Grinnell Mutual Tests Home Fire Sprinkler Systems

Oct 16, 2013

Two living rooms, two fires, one sprinkler system – Grinnell Mutual shows how quickly home fires grow if not contained by a residential sprinkler system.  Join Grinnell Mutual’s Special Investigations Unit as they talk about home fire safety and test the effectiveness of a home sprinkler system in this Grinnell Mutual Talks about Safety videocast.

"What we hope to show is that a sprinkler system within your home buys you and your family time to get out safely if there’s a fire," said Alan Clark, assistant vice president of Special Investigations.

Grinnell Mutual’s test was conducted using 8 by 10 foot burn cells, each identically furnished as a living room, to simulate a typical residential fire caused by a candle, cigarette, or overheated electrical unit. Sensors were placed in both cells to monitor room temperatures during the test. In the first cell a residential sprinkler was installed at ceiling level.  Following ignition, the sprinkler activates when temperatures reach 165 degrees Fahrenheit at the ceiling level.  Within five minutes the fire is contained to the couch.

"Damage to this room is fairly minor compared to what will happen in the next," said Clark.  "Although we had fire damage at the end of the couch, there was no damage to the plastic window blinds hanging above the couch. This indicates just how well the residential sprinkler system contained the fire and reduced heat in this room."

In the second burn cell, a living room without a residential sprinkler was ignited in the same location.  In less than five minutes the room reached flashover – the point at which nearly all exposed combustible materials in the room simultaneously ignite – with temperatures nearing 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

"The difference between these two burns is obvious. One room is totally gutted by fire.  The smoke alarm has been destroyed, all the glass in the room is destroyed, the couch is gone, the chair is gone, and the carpet is burned. Comparing that to the first cell, you can see the difference that one residential sprinkler head in this room would have made," said Clark.

This test was conducted By Grinnell Mutual Special Investigations in conjunction with the Grinnell Fire Department in fall 2012.  The results of this test align with current research.

About burn cell demonstrations

Grinnell Mutual’s Special Investigations Unit has held burn cell demonstrations for more than five years as an educational and research tool for fire personnel, insurance professionals, and the public to demonstrate burn patterns, test materials, and show the effectiveness of residential sprinkler systems.

Fire Prevention Week: A little caution can prevent cooking fires

Oct 04, 2013

Whether you are baking a tasty treat or cooking the evening meal, a little caution can prevent cooking fires, advocates Grinnell Mutual Assistant Vice President of Special Investigations Alan Clark. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports that more house fires start in the kitchen than any other room in the house. Learn how to prevent kitchen fires during Fire Prevention Week October 6-12. Watch how quickly cooking fires escalate in Grinnell Mutual’s burn cell demonstration video.

Stay alert while cooking

"The most common cause of kitchen fires that we see is people leaving their cooking, frying, baking, etc., unattended," Clark. "It’s easy to get distracted while cooking, but that’s when trouble starts." 

Placing combustibles, such as paper products or food items, too close to a heat source is also a common cause of fires. Last year, combustibles too close to a heat source accounted for nearly a third of the fires investigated by Grinnell Mutual. 

The cost of kitchen fires is high. from 2007 to 2011, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 156,600 cooking-related fires per year. As a result of these fires, 400 civilians died and 5,080 civilians were injured annually. In addition, the fires caused $853 million in direct damages. All figures are from data reported by NFPA.

"Carelessness leads to a lot of fires. The best tip we can give is to pay attention, especially when you’re cooking," said Clark.

Responding to a kitchen fire

If a fire does occur in the kitchen, be ready to respond with these tips from the United States Fire Administration.


  • When in doubt, just get out. When you leave, close the door behind you to help contain the fire. Call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number after you leave.
  • If you do try to fight the fire, be sure others are already getting out and you have a clear path to the exit.
  • Always keep an oven mitt and a lid nearby when you are cooking. If a small grease fire starts in a pan, smother the flames by carefully sliding the lid over the pan (make sure you are wearing the oven mitt). Turn off the burner. Do not move the pan. To keep the fire from restarting, leave the lid on until the pan is completely cool.
  • In case of an oven fire, turn off the heat and keep the door closed to prevent flames from burning you or your clothing.
  • If you have a fire in your microwave oven, turn it off immediately and keep the door closed. Never open the door until the fire is completely out. Unplug the appliance if you can safely reach the outlet.
  • After a fire, both ovens and microwaves should be checked and/or serviced before being used again.


Fire Prevention Week is also a good time to test and replace batteries in smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors, practice a home escape plan, and inspect and clean chimneys prior to heating season.

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