Don’t Become a Statistic: Grain Bin Safety Guidelines

by: Doug Hoffman, Safety Manager

According to a recent annual report from Purdue University’s Agricultural Safety and Health Program, there were 30 documented grain entrapments in the United States in 2021, with 59% resulting in fatality. The report also cites the average age of grain entrapment victims is 58, however youth under the age of 21 have accounted for 20% of annual cases in the past.

February 19-25, 2024 we are recognizing Grain Bin Safety week; a time to raise awareness of the dangers of working in and around grain bins and the importance of implementing and following safe work procedures.

Over two-thirds of US grain is stored on the farm without OSHA standards for safety protocols. As a grower, it is up to you to keep your employees, spouse, family and friends safe from grain bin hazards.

Grain entrapment can occur dangerously fast – the Grain Handling Safety Coalition warns that someone standing on flowing grain could become trapped within a mere 4 to 5 seconds. In as little as 22 seconds, they could be entirely engulfed.

There are several types of grain bin entrapments. Knowing these and the situations they present can help you in an emergency.

Types of Grain Bin Entrapment

  1. Flowing Column of Grain – Occurs when the flow pattern of this type resembles a funnel, taking on whirlpool-like behavior. As the grain descends from the top of the bin wall, it gains speed, converging it into a small, vertical column at the center. Subsequently, this central column moves downward through the grain mass, maintaining a pace close to that of the unloading auger.
  2. Horizontal Crusted Grain Surface Collapse – Presents itself whencrusted and spoiled grain combines into one element, causing a false sense of security. Empty spots hide beneath the surface, posing a risk of falling and collapsing.
  3. Vertical Crusted Grain Surface Collapse – Arises when spoiled and compacted grain takes the shape of a vertical column, giving off the perspective of a solid wall. However, it is unstable and can collapse if tampered with.
  4. Entrapment/Suffocation – This takes effect when a farmer and/or employee attempts to break up compacted grain. Though the grain seems stable, it can have weak spots and give way. This happens suddenly and typically buries the farmer and/or worker partially or entirely.

To avoid any of the above predicaments and guarantee safety on your farm, follow these Grain Bin Safety guidelines:

Grain Bin Safety Guide

  • Educate and Create a Crisis Plan – Staying up to date on the latest techniques, equipment, and protocols will warrant a safer space for yourself and your employees and help you stay ahead of potential hazards. Likewise, creating a crisis plan before entering a grain bin can reduce reaction time and help you stay calm should a crisis ensue.
  • Inspect the Grain Bin – Properly inspect grain bins before entering to help you feel familiar with the area and allow for proper testing of structural safety. Look for bridged grain, hung-up grain, or anything that might seem unordinary as these elements can impose entrapment risks.
  • Test the Air – Grain bins have been known to emit hazardous gases, so checking air quality before entering can reduce toxic inhalation. Should you detect any contaminated air, take the steps necessary to promote proper ventilation until air quality has been restored. If you’re still unsure, wear a mask.
  • “Take Two” – If you’re going into a grain bin, bring another person who can remain in a safe and central location to watch you and communicate with outside individuals.
  • Lockout – Making a small investment in a lockout can reduce the risk of accidents or fatalities by isolating a power source and de-energizing a machine.
  • Tagout – Another way topromote safety is through a tagout process. This informs family and/or employees why there’s a lock on a piece of equipment. It also accounts for personnel since each machine requires everyone to unlock it and each tag contains a person’s name.
  • Harness your Smartness – Be smart and purchase a full-body safety harness or rescue device that can quickly extract yourself or others from the grains.
  • Follow Proper Maintenance Guidelines – Ensuring clean grain, detecting moisture levels, monitoring storage length, and investing in an aeration system are all ways you can follow proper grain bin maintenance to reduce safety risks.

Following these proactive approaches can safeguard your farm – and your life. Act in your commitment to maintaining grain bins, preserve your agriculture legacy, and ensure your farm remains a thriving operation for generations.

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