Corn and soybean harvest season is upon us and fall weather can dictate some narrow windows of opportunity to get the grain off the field, hauled and stored in a bin. Long hours and stressful conditions increase the risk of accident and/or injury. Every harvest season we hear reports of farmers injured or killed in grain handling related accidents. According to a South Dakota State University article entitled “Grain Storage: Do’s and Don’ts” in 2017 there were 54 reported cases of agricultural confined space-related accidents, with 31 fatalities. Of those 54 cases, 23 involved grain entrapment and resulted in twelve fatalities. In Ohio, there were 10 fatalities attributed to grain handling and storage between the years of 2007 to 2016. Specifically, suffocation accounted for 46% of the fatalities, entanglement 36%, while being struck by something or falling from something resulted in 18% of those deaths. Other risk factors when handling grain include crushing, explosions, and carbon dioxide poisoning.
What can you do to prevent yourself, family members, or farm employees from becoming a tragic statistic? Safety education and prevention needs to be the foundation along with emergency response training. The South Dakota State University article that I mentioned previously says that the following steps can help prevent injuries when it is necessary for someone to enter a grain bin:
- Install exit ladders inside of bins. Paint them with bright colors to make them easy to see in a dark, dusty environment.
- Hang a ‘life-line’ from the center of the roof to provide an additional escape route. Lifelines are available commercially or you can create one by attaching a rope with knots or a sturdy hanging ladder from the peak of the inside of a bin. The bin structure needs to be able to support a minimum load of 1800 to 2000 pounds.
- Lock out procedures should be in place on grain moving equipment so that when entering a bin, no one else can turn on augers or other equipment. This can be as simple as a padlock.
- Use safety decals on storage facilities as a reminder of the dangers of flowing grains.
- Be sure all exterior ladders are stable and caged (especially if longer than 20’) to avoid falls upon entrance.
Standard operating procedures around grain handling equipment and grain bins include the following:
- Never allow children to play or work in the area of flowing grain no matter what the circumstance.
- Before entering a bin, shut off power to all grain moving equipment and lock it out to prevent others from starting equipment while you’re inside.
- Never enter a bin/wagon/truck when grain is flowing.
- Always wear a safety harness when entering bins.
- Upon entering a bin, stay near the outer wall and keep walking if grain starts to move.
- If grain is crusted, break up crust from outside the bin with a long rod or stick before entering, taking care to avoid electrical lines.
- If grain is in a steep pile, use a long pole to dislodge- not a shovel.
- Work in groups. Grain handling can be very dangerous and having 2-3 people present at all times can significantly impact the safety of workers, especially in the event of an emergency.
- Wear an appropriate filtered mask when working in bins. Before entering a bin, monitor the air quality to make sure the oxygen level is sufficient.
All farm family members and employees should be trained in safety procedures and know how to operate safety equipment and tools. There are some good on-line resources focused on the topic of grain safety available at http://grainsafety.org/ contains written materials and videos, and https://www.mynsightonline.com/home/grain-bin-safety-week contains articles, checklists and video resources.
For more information about grain bin and grain handling safety, contact the Wayne County Extension office at 330-264-8722.