• Avoiding grain bin entrapment requires awareness of the dangers, as well as training and clear safety procedures to follow in case of emergency.
During this harvest season, Syngenta is sharing important information from its partners in the field that can help save lives.
Inside a grain storage bin, flowing grain can engulf a grown man in just 20 seconds. That fact alone helps explain why every year, people are hurt — and some killed — in grain bin accidents.
Avoiding grain bin entrapment requires awareness of the dangers, as well as training and clear safety procedures to follow in case of emergency.
“When you enter a bin, there are huge potential consequences,” said Wayne Stigge, technical trainer for CHS, County Operations Division, in Pasco, Wash. “People think they’ll go in, get something loose and then get back out,” Stigge added. “But once grain starts flowing, it’s so hard to get out of the bin.”
Grain bin parts (the auger, fans and grain vacuums) can cause injury and death, and accidents in grain bins are especially challenging because reaching the victim is difficult for rescuers. The average rescue time is more than three hours.
The events of 2010 — with 51 grain bin accidents, the worst year on record — created greater awareness of the dangers grain bins can pose. Grain condition contributed to the numbers: It was a wet year, and crops had high moisture content. Managing grain quality, Stigge said, can lower the risk of grain bin problems because dry grain flows better.
An employee at Heartland Co-op in West Des Moines, Iowa, experienced the danger of flowing grain firsthand when he was trapped and buried to his waist two years ago. “Fortunately, our people were able to get him out,” said Bill Chizek, Heartland’s director of safety and compliance.
Heartland has taken several steps to minimize potential problems. Chizek trains Heartland’s employees once or twice a year on grain bin rescue procedures. The company also has upgraded a lot of sweep augers so workers don’t have to be in the bins to make them work and has invested in a new vacuum system to get all the grain out.
Chizek emphasized that no one should ever enter a bin with a sweep augur running; following lock-out/tag-out procedures helps ensure that doesn’t happen.
Air monitoring is another important safety precaution, noted Dan Neenan, director of the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety http://www.necasag.org/(NECAS). “An employee entering a bin should clip the monitoring device to his or her harness so it goes with the employee down where the air could be dangerous.”
Bridging and crusting grain are two more potential causes of disasters: A person goes in to knock down grain crusted on the bin’s side and causes an avalanche, or he falls into a void when a grain bridge — a hard, crusty surface formed by moldy or frozen grain — collapses. A more recent development is texting while using a grain vacuum.
“Workers stick the hose at their feet while they answer a text, and it sucks the grain out from under their feet,” Neenan said.
For times when someone must enter a bin, NECAS has developed training for the proper procedures. Businesses that pay for their trainers’ travel expenses can receive that instruction free, Neenan says.
It’s not just employees who need training in rescues. Making sure the local fire department is trained properly is also critical, Stigge said. Because every facility — and even every bin — presents a different scenario for rescuers, it’s a good idea to have all potential rescue workers familiar with the specifics.
“‘It can’t happen to me’ — we’ve got to end that thinking,” said Neenan. “The wrong decision could end your life.”