One of the greatest dangers on your farm is lurking quietly in your grain bins.
“Make sure everyone, including family and employees, working around stored grain understands the hazards and proper safety procedures,” North Dakota State University Extension Service agricultural engineer Ken Hellevang says.
“Too many people ignore safety practices and suffer severe injury or death while working around grain,” he adds. “They get trapped in grain, tangled in auger flighting, or develop respiratory problems from exposure to grain dust and mould particles.”
Grain bin dangers
Never enter a bin while unloading grain or to break up a grain bridge. Flowing grain will pull you into the grain mass, burying you within seconds.
Stop the grain-conveying equipment and use the “lock-out/tag-out” procedures to secure it before entering the bin. Use a key-type padlock to lock the conveyor switch in the “off” position to assure that the equipment does not start automatically or someone does not start it accidentally.
Bridging occurs when grain is high in moisture content, mouldy or in poor condition. The kernels stick together and form a crust. A cavity will form under the crust when grain is removed from the bin. The crust isn’t strong enough to support a person’s weight, so anyone who walks on it will fall into the cavity and be buried under several feet of grain.
“To determine if the grain is bridged, look for a funnel shape on the surface of the grain mass after some grain has been removed,” Hellevang advises. “If the grain surface appears undisturbed, the grain has bridged and a cavity has formed under the surface.”
Stay outside the bin and use a pole or other object to break the bridge loose.
If the grain flow stops when you’re removing it from the bin but the grain surface has a funnel shape and shows some evidence that grain has been flowing into the auger, a chunk of spoiled grain probably is blocking the flow. Entering the bin to break up the blockage will expose you to being buried in grain and tangled in the auger.
If grain has formed a vertical wall, try to break it up from the top of the bin with a long pole on a rope or through a door with a long pole. A wall of grain can collapse, or avalanche, without warning, knocking you over and burying you.
Follow recommended storage management procedures to minimize the potential for crusting or bridging and chunks of grain blocking unloading.
Also, never enter a grain bin alone. Have at least two people at the bin to assist in case of problems. Use a safety harness when entering a bin.
Rescuing a trapped person
If someone gets trapped:
- Shut off all grain-moving equipment.
- Contact your local emergency rescue service or fire department.
- Ventilate the bin using the fan.
- Form a retaining wall around the person using a rescue tube or plywood, sheet metal or other material to keep grain from flowing toward the person, then remove grain from around the individual. Walking on the grain pushes more grain onto the trapped person.
- Don’t try to pull a person out of grain. The grain exerts tremendous forces, so trying to pull someone out could damage the person’s spinal column or cause other damage.
- Cut holes in the bin sides to remove grain if the person is submerged. Use a cutting torch, metal-cutting power saw or air chisel to cut at least two V- or U-shaped holes on opposite sides or more holes equally spaced around the bin.
Grain flowing from just one hole may injure the trapped person and cause the bin to collapse.
Dust, mould pose health hazards
Even low-level exposure to dust and mould can cause symptoms such as wheezing, a sore throat, congestion, and nasal or eye irritation.
Higher concentrations can cause allergic reactions and trigger asthma episodes and other problems. Typical symptoms include shortness of breath; burning eyes; blurry vision; light sensitivity; a dry, hacking cough; and skin irritation.
People may experience one or a combination of these symptoms.
In rare cases, severe symptoms, such as headaches, aches and pains, and/or fever, may develop. People’s sensitivity varies based on the amount and type of mould. In addition, certain types of moulds can produce mycotoxins, which increase the potential for health hazards from exposure to mould spores.
The minimum protection for anyone working around mouldy grain should be an N-95-rated face mask, according to Hellevang. This mask has two straps to hold it firmly to the face and a metal strip over the nose to create a tight seal. A nuisance-dust mask with a single strap will not provide adequate protection, he says.
Getting tangled in the unloading sweep auger is another major hazard.
Entanglement typically results in lost feet, hands, arms, legs and frequently death due to the severe damage.
Although you shouldn’t enter a bin with an energized sweep auger, it may be necessary in some instances, Hellevang says. All sweep augers should have guards that protect against contact with moving parts at the top and back. The only unguarded portion of the sweep auger should be the front point of operation.
If someone must go into the bin, make sure to have a rescue-trained and equipped observer positioned outside the storage bin. Use a safety switch that will allow the auger to operate only while the worker is in contact with the switch.
Never use your hands or legs to manipulate the sweep auger while it’s in operation. The auger should have a bin stop device that prevents the sweep auger from making uncontrolled rotations.
For more information, check out the NDSU publication Caught in the Grain on the NDSU website.