Grain Bin Danger

Tips for staying safe in and around one of the deadliest devices on the farm.

By Nancy Dorman-Hickson | Photos By Rod Horve, courtesy of GSI

Rescue tubes allow rescuers to “remove the grain from the victim, not the victim from the grain,” says Jeffrey Decker of GSI, a leading manufacturer of farm storage bins and silos.

Rescue tubes allow rescuers to “remove the grain from the victim, not the victim from the grain,” says Jeffrey Decker of GSI, a leading manufacturer of farm storage bins and silos.

Jeffrey Decker was appalled when four children at a recent talk admitted they play in grain bins. He extracted promises from each to stop, says the GSI safety and product specialist. But it’s often harder to convince adults to pay attention to grain bin hazards, whether he’s talking about potential entrapment and engulfment, explosions or other perils.

Since late summer and fall are when grain bin accidents occur most frequently, we offer these tips to help keep you, your employees and family safe.

Don’t go in. Stay out of bins. If it’s necessary, monitor the air for safe levels of oxygen and for unsafe levels of hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide and other hazardous gases. Have another person on watch and wear a safety harness.

Shut down equipment. “There is no good reason to get in a bin with equipment running,” says Steve Wettschurach, grain bin safety specialist at Purdue University. “With the unloading system running, you can be buried waist-deep in 15 seconds,” Decker says. “You can be completely under in 30 seconds or less.”

Minimize out-of-condition grain. Crusty grain clogs and stops unloading, which often prompts farmers to enter, poke and even walk across hardened layers. This is one of the most likely scenarios in which entrapment could occur.

Prevention “starts in the field and in how you dry it,” Wettschurach says. Moisture at 15% or less prevents out-of-condition grain. Temperature and/or moisture monitoring cable systems are helpful. For bins equipped with center unloading augers, coring out the center helps minimize accumulation of moisture-storing debris.

Rescuing entrapment victims. “It’s never good to try to pull out somebody when they’re buried,” Wettschurach says. “There’s too much pressure on the legs, arms and waist.” If the person is buried to chest or neck, “get the grain away from their chest as fast as possible,” says Decker. Cutting holes on the bin sides to remove grain is effective, but devices that remove grain immediately surrounding the person are more efficient. Utilize a rescue tube (four aluminum vertical pieces) “to form a complete circle around your victim, shoving each individual panel down in the grain around the victim,” Decker says. Then remove that grain inside the tube around the victim by shop vac, hard hat, coffee can—whatever is available.

Prevent dust explosions. Accumulated dust in bins can lead to catastrophe. Even a single spark can set off an explosion. Monitors can sound the alarm when dust accumulates to dangerous levels. A more low-tech method of checking for dust is when visibility in the bin is reduced to only 3 to 5 feet. Use fans to minimize the accumulation and the danger.

Change your attitude. “I get told by farmers all the time,” says Decker, “‘I’ve done it this way for 20 years and I’ve never had an issue.’” Remember, he says, “Every day you go into that grain bin, you’re risking your life.”

He thinks a farmer’s family holds the key. “If a child or a spouse says, ‘I know you’re going out to the bin. Make sure you shut the auger off and you’re safe. I love you,’ that may get to him.”