Midwest harvest preparations include cleaning and fumigating grain bins, preparing equipment, and getting trucks ready to roll. Add in long hours and a sense of urgency, and what gets left out? The most important factor — human safety.
Survey the workplace, environment, and roads for hazards such as power lines that could get entangled with grain augers, dust, and the potential for grain engulfment, a hazard that often leads to death.
Most people associate grain engulfment with grain bins; however, grain engulfment can happen in trucks, grain carts, and rail cars, as well as in bins and on-ground storage and silage piles. Often people enter bins to loosen clumps or bridges because grain has gone out of condition. During harvest, people sitting on the edge of a truck, cart or rail car have lost their lives after falling inside while grain was being unloaded.
Both experienced and inexperienced workers underestimate the deadly risks associated with the speed and force of flowing or shifting grain. Purdue University reported more than 900 cases of grain engulfment nationally and a fatality rate of 62% in the past 50 years.
Nebraska has had nine grain-bin and bin-auger related fatalities from 2012 through March 2016. Many local volunteer fire departments and commercial grain facilities have trained personnel equipped to extricate a trapped victim. Know where these specialists are and how to quickly contact them if needed, advises Nebraska Extension Educator Keith Jarvi.
Steps to Avoid Entrapment
Every flowing grain entrapment is preventable. To stay safe, the National Ag Safety Database advises following these precautions:
- Stay out of grain bins, wagons, and grain trucks when unloading equipment is running.
- Never work alone around grain bins. Be certain someone knows when you enter a bin and remains nearby to prevent the start-up of equipment or to call for help.
- If it is necessary to enter the bin, shut off the unloader. It is a good idea to lock out and tag any unloading equipment before entering a bin to prevent someone from unintentionally starting the equipment while you are in the bin.
- Never allow children to play in or around grain bins, wagons, or truck beds.
- Where possible, install ladders and ropes inside grain bins to provide a grab hold or an emergency exit. Attach ropes to the ladders and to the top center of the bin. Anyone entering the bin should attach a rope and harness to themselves before entering. Ladders are easier to locate inside a dusty bin if they have brightly painted stripes just above or behind the ladder.
NASD also advises that if you must enter the bin, you should:
- Wear a harness attached to a rope.
- Stay near the outer wall of the bin and keep walking if the grain should start to flow. Get to the bin ladder or safety rope as quickly as possible.
- Have another person, preferably two people, outside the bin who can help if you become entrapped. These people should be trained in rescue procedures and should know and follow safety procedures for entering the confined space.
- Grain fines and dust may cause difficulty in breathing. Anyone working in a grain bin, especially for the purpose of cleaning the bin, should wear an appropriate dust filter or filter respirator.