Plant it. Harvest it. Store it. While it takes an entire growing season to produce the millions of bushels of grain harvested each year, it takes fewer than five seconds to become helplessly trapped in flowing grain, and fewer than 30 seconds to be fully engulfed. So says Kerri Ebert, Kansas State University Extension assistant of agricultural safety.
Roughly 12 people suffocate in grain bins annually, according to OSHA. All of the grain in storage is not worth the life of one farmer — and by following basic guidelines, grain-handling accidents are preventable.
Because stored grain can trap you in seconds, there's limited time to call for help. Never work alone when moving grain, and stay out of bins, grain wagons and trucks when unloading, Ebert says.
WHEN EMPTYING BINS, a person standing on top can become sucked into the grain when the unloading auger is turned on. “The auger typically pulls down from the top center of the grain pile creating a funnel-shaped indentation,” Ebert says. “As grain flows down, the victim is pulled down too, even as the remaining grain flows down around and on top of the victim, until the person becomes lodged in the floor auger.”
Looks can be deceiving when emptying a bin of poor quality grain. Spoiled grain will crust over on the surface and look solid while a cavity develops below. It can also cake in large vertical masses along the side of the bin. Use caution and try to break up crusts and masses from outside the bin.
People underestimate the weight and force of grain. Once a person becomes entrapped it takes 300 lbs. of pulling force to extract an adult submerged to the waist in grain.
Equipment noise can block cries for help. Make sure someone knows where you are and plan a method of communication before entering the bin or hopper.
If you must enter a full bin of grain, wear a safety harness with a tether or a rope tied off so it can't slip from your helper's hands. At the end of the rope, there should be a minimum of two people who are strong enough to pull the trapped person out, or at a minimum keep their head and chest out of the grain. In an emergency, one helper can call for assistance.
Never enter a grain bin, cart or hopper car when it's being unloaded. Turn off, lock and tag power to the auger before entering so that no one else can start the auger while you are inside or an automatic timer won't start the auger. Use a lockout and tag out system to ensure safety.
When someone does become submerged in an enclosed grain bin, the most effective emergency rescue step is to cut four to eight large holes all around the base of the bin approximately 5 ft. from the ground, Ebert says. This method removes grain in the shortest time possible and time is of the essence before a victim suffocates.
ALSO, BE AWARE of the air quality around stored grain. Grain dust can contain soil, plant material, fungi, bacteria, chemical residue and the excreta of insects, rodents and birds. Spoiled grain is especially contaminated with dust and bacteria. These can trigger inflammation, asthma, pulmonary disease, Toxic Organic Dust Syndrome and Farmer's Lung.
When grain is stored wet, it ferments and produces the colorless, odorless gas carbon dioxide (CO2). If working in this environment, CO2 can enter your bloodstream and slow breathing. Spoiled grain can also produce mold spores that become airborne when disturbed.
To help reduce reactions, Ebert suggests wearing adequate protective masks and open manholes to increase air circulation.