Picture this: As an auger unloads a grain bin, a farm employee enters the bin from the top to break up clumps in the grain. The grain gives way and grain engulfs the employee, who dies of asphyxiation before he can be rescued from the grain bin.
Since 1970, roughly half of the 1,059 documented grain entrapments have resulted in death. Nearly two-thirds of those entrapments occurred in the 10 states that make up the Corn Belt, according to Purdue University.
"Entering a grain storage bin without appropriate personal protection and without an outside attendant is an extremely hazardous action to take," said Larry Gallagher, director of Corporate Loss Control at Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Company. "Entry into a bin should be a last resort action."
Stored grain has incredible weight and force. A 12-inch layer of grain can weigh as much as 300 pounds, enough weight to entrap a grown person or suffocate a child. That is equivalent to being trapped under a college football lineman.
Handling grain safely can prevent accidents
2009 was a record crop for many farmers. However, high moisture levels in the harvested grain led to a record number of entrapments in 2010. The 2013 grain harvest also had higher than average moisture levels, potentially creating a situation known as grain bridging where grain clumps together to form a crust with an open space below it. Unknowingly, workers may enter the bin and break through the bridge.
"Make every effort to eliminate grain bridging before you enter a grain bin," said Gallagher. "Poles and extension devices can be used from the top of the bin to try to dislodge the grain."
If grain is attached to the sidewall of the bin, Gallagher recommends trying to dislodge it from outside the bin. This may be accomplished through the use of an extension pole through the top manhole cover or by striking the exterior wall of the bin in the area where the grain is adhering to the bin walls. Tool selection is important when attempting to free the grain using this second option. A rubber mallet may allow you to strike the exterior wall and dislodge the grain yet not damage/dent the exterior wall of the bin.
If you go in the bin
"First, make certain that the individuals going in are provided with a full body harness connected to a lanyard," said Gallagher. "Also, make sure they have training prior to going into the grain bin."
"Next, have an outside attendant that can remain in constant communication with the individuals inside the grain bin. Finally, shut down power to all grain handling equipment prior to anyone entering the bin."
If the grain storage facility is on a family farm, Grinnell Mutual recommends following these safety tips from Farm Safety For Just Kids when handling grain:
- Always lock all access doors to grain storage structures.
- Never permit children to ride in grain wagons or enter grain storage areas.
- Always know where ALL family members are (especially children) at all times when grain is being loaded, unloaded, moved or otherwise handled.
Grain bin safety should be like wearing a seat belt
Gallagher emphasizes that handling grain safely has to become a habit.
"The safety harness, the lanyard, the attendant, and the shutdown of the power to the equipment within the bin--it's like a seat belt in a car. These actions should be automatic. They have to happen."
For more information about safe work practices and grain storage bins, visit Safety Talks on Grinnell Mutual's website, grinnellmutual.com.