Steps to Avoid Grain Bin Entrapment
How to install and use a lifeline rope system when entering a grain bin. (Source: Grain Handling Safety Coalition)
Ten seconds. That's how quickly you can become entrapped in grain up to your waist while working in a grain bin.
Twenty-five seconds. That's how long it takes to become completely submerged in grain.
Records indicate that each year in Nebraska one to three people die from grain entrapment and many more put themselves in critical near-death situations.
Reducing risk starts with proper stored grain management to keep grain from going out of condition and crusting. In turn, this reduces the temptation to enter the bin to manually move the grain.
Aaron Yoder, an assistant professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, researches farm safety and conducts national farm safety programs. Yoder describes four scenarios often causing grain entrapment:
- Flowing grain. As an augur moves grain out from the bottom of the bin, a funnel forms in the center column of grain that can quickly pull down someone working on top of the grain to loosen it (Figure 1). Always have someone close monitoring the bin while you work, stay in communication with them, and establish emergency hand signals to communicate over equipment noise.
- Grain bridge collapse. Out-of-condition grain can crust over, and as grain shifts at the bottom of the bin, large air pockets can form underneath the bridge (Figures 2-3). While it can be tempting to break a bridge by tapping on it, when it gives way, your weight can quickly swift, causing you to fall into the space and be covered by grain. When possible, use a long rod from outside the bin to prod the crusted grain.
- Grain wall avalanche. Frozen or out-of-condition grain can cling to the bin's sidewalls and when prodded, flow to the bin floor. Don't underestimate the amount of grain involved and don't work where the grain wall is higher than you are. Wear a safety harness.
- Use of a grain vacuum. These tools can move several thousand bushels of grain in an hour. If a hose is dropped and becomes buried, flowing grain can shift and the surface can become unstable. You could be pulled under and carried toward the auger outlet.
Understand the hazards on your farm, think through the possible scenarios of what could happen, plan how to avoid them and, if necessary, how to respond.
Don't take shortcuts when working in enclosed spaces with grain. Take time to stay safe. Whenever possible use inspection holes and grain bin level markers rather than entering the bin. If you have to enter the bin:
- Never work alone. Tell others that you'll be entering the bin and always have a second person outside who can provide assistance.
- Establish a system of hand signals to communicate over the noise of operations.
- Always wear a body harness that is securely attached to the outside of the grain bin. (See above video.)
- Never enter a bin while the auger is running. Lock off and tag the auger so someone doesn't turn it on while you're inside.
- Keep safety tools handy. Attach a long rod to the bin for prodding grain from a distance.
Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, provides research and information for farmers. Health projects engage producers throughout the seven-state region.