Grain Bin Safety On The Farm

By Graham Cofield, Trigg County Agriculture Extension Agent

 

Working In the Agriculture industry is one of the most rewarding careers a person can have.

For many of us, it may be all we’ve ever known, for others it may be a dream we’ve always had.  There is no better place for kids- or adults to learn life’s lessons, teamwork, dedication, and the value of work ethic than on the farm.  With all that we love about our lifestyle, it also comes with huge responsibilities, Farming is one of the most dangerous occupations in the US.  Farming fatalities average between 60-70/ 100,000  in the “Farming or Agriculture” population.  It is estimated as many as 1/3 farmers or farmworkers will be involved in some type of accident each year not all will be life-threatening but may cause lost time at work and an estimated 3% of our farm workers will suffer serious non-fatal injuries including amputations, or disfigurement injuries.

While most farm accidents involve tractors, harvesting equipment, or rollovers we sometimes get complacent once we are out of the fields and away from the heavy machinery.  Grain entrapments are the second leading cause of death for our farm workers.  I’m going to focus mostly on that here.  Most fatalities involving grain are due to suffocation, many people think that they could still breathe with grain covering them, while grain won’t stop airflow it is incredibly difficult to take a breath with grain pressing in on you from all sides-  if you ever think it’s easy to try blowing up a balloon in a bucket full of corn.  It’ll be about that hard for you to breathe after being engulfed.  It is estimated that over 62% of entrapments end in fatality there are a lot of reasons for that- One is how fast things can go bad, with our larger capacity augers flowing grain can completely engulf a 6 ft tall person in less than 15 seconds.   Another is how long it takes for someone to notice.  If you get into trouble and call for help can someone hear you over the fans, trucks, dryer, and augers that are all running nearby?    Even if someone saw you go under how- long would it take them to shut down the operation and get back to help you?

 

180 lb mannequin Engulfed to: LBS force to extract:
Waist 380lb
Chest 430lb
Shoulders 524lb
Head 690lb
Overhead 1045lb

The other often overlooked part of grain safety is the amount of force it takes to pull someone out if you were to become engulfed.  Most of us think we could get ourselves out or if we had a rope we’d be fine. We are probably over-estimating our own strength!  The table below lists the results of a test using a 180 lb mannequin out of corn using a vertical pull.    What this doesn’t tell is that in almost no cases can you pull a victim vertically from an entrapment there will be some angle depending on their location and where you are working from.  Any angle at all will add to the amount of force it takes to free the victim.  Another issue is that in a grain rescue unless the victim is wearing a full harness, pulling on someone with the forces shown especially when engulfed to the shoulder level or more likely will leave them with other injuries as well.

 

Not everything is as gloomy as most of this article has been, grain handling manufacturers and farmers are very innovative people and have been working to address some of these issues.  Currently, most grain bin manufacturers are offering anchor system options making it easier to tie onto upon entering bins, several companies are offering “rescue tubes” they sell them under several names but they are all lightweight, collapsible structures that can be transported easily into a grain bin, erected around the victim and grain removed from inside to allow easier extraction.  There are also battery-powered drill operated augers available to remove grain from these tubes faster than we can with a scoop or small bucket.

Our very own Trigg County Farm Bureau board of directors last year purchased 3 of the “Turtle Tubes” for a local rescue and emergency management to use when needed.  Trigg County Rescue has one tube as well as Cerulean and Montgomery Volunteer fire Departments.  The idea is to locate the tubes near as many producers with grain facilities as possible to facilitate the quickest response times in the event of an emergency.  KDA also offers very good training each year for anyone who is willing to attend, travel may be necessary but usually, we have one offered nearby.

 

The UK College of Ag Engineering offers these 6 general safety rules we all should live by when working around grain:

  1. Anyone entering a bin should be tethered to a suitable anchor and at least one other person should be present in case and incident occurs.
  2. Never enter a bin, truck, or trailer of flowing grain
  3. Don’t enter a bin without knowing some history, if grain appears crusty on top- it may be bridged with nothing underneath- use a pole to break up crust before entering.
  4. Lockout loading and unloading equipment before entering bins for work, if you must enter a bin be sure your coworkers know you’re in there. Also, make sure no one is in a bin before you begin unloading it.
  5. Don’t become a second victim if someone is entrapped, call for help. Don’t try to pull someone from flowing grain before stopping the flow.  In out of condition grain, silos be aware of gasses and reduced oxygen content.
  6. Discuss safety hazards with other workers: Install ladders and ropes inside bins never allow children to play in grain be sure they know the dangers too.

 

As with most emergency situations, timing is the most critical issue in grain entrapments, the key for all of us is to work hard to prevent the situation in the first place and to have a plan in place should you need to act.

 

For more information on grain safety visit: https://www.uky.edu/bae/grain-safety