Reducing preventable grain facility entrapments, deaths

Now Media Group

Each year rescue workers respond to 911 calls for someone entrapped in a grain storage facility.

The goal during the third annual Grain Bin Safety Week is to reduce the number of preventable entrapments and deaths that occur each year on farms and commercial grain handling facilities.

Most recently, a farm worker died after becoming trapped in a grain bin in southern Iowa. The accident occurred when the farm worker and farm owner were trying to break up a crust that had formed on soybeans inside the bin. Two weeks later in Keystone, IA, a man was killed in a grain bin when a wall of corn likely collapsed on him while he was vacuuming grain into a semi at a grain storage facility, according to Nationwide Agribusiness.

During the first 10 months of 2015, 22 reported grain bin entrapments resulted in 11 fatalities, according to the Purdue University Extension. These statistics do not include the aforementioned accidents and other fatalities and entrapments that have occurred in November or December — and the many non-fatal grain entrapments that went unreported.

In 2014, the first year of Grain Bin Safety Week, 38 documented grain bin entrapments resulted in 17 deaths — the highest numbers since 2010 when 59 entrapments claimed 26 lives.

Unfortunately, grain bin accidents are likely to increase these numbers.

"Grain bin accidents can tragically impact individuals, families and entire communities," said Brad Liggett, president of Nationwide Agribusiness. "Accident prevention means everyone working together, and Grain Bin Safety Week provides a forum for the agricultural community to help keep people safe."

Grain storage

Following back-to-back bumper crops and with grain prices at historic lows, more farmers are utilizing on-farm storage to capture higher prices or marketing opportunities later. And where storage capacity is scarce, farmers and co-ops are building large-capacity grain bins.

At the end of the day, farmers — sometimes young, inexperienced farmers — are dealing with an overflow of grain that must be properly maintained to prevent grain spoilage and other issues. Due in part to increases of on-farm storage and large-capacity bins, grain bin accidents are likely to increase if farmers and commercial grain handlers chose to ignore the hazards and safe-work practices and procedures.

The inside of a grain bin is not the place for taking short cuts. Grain bin safety starts with maintaining grain quality in storage. With proper aeration and cooling of stored grain, farmers and commercial grain handlers can help prevent the formation of clumps, crusts or grain bridges that can interfere with grain flow and lead to dangerous grain bin entry.

More often, grain bin accidents occur when untrained or inexperienced workers or family members enter a grain bin without following proper grain bin entry procedures, such as wearing a safety harness secured to a life line.

Preventing tragedy

Like quicksand, flowing grain can pull a 165-pound man down to waist level in seconds and bury him in less than a minute. Once grain gets above the knees, the amount of friction and pressure exerted on a person's body makes escape without assistance nearly impossible.

Grain bin hazards aren't limited to entrapment or engulfment. Other, equally-hazardous situations include toxic atmospheres, augers and Power Take-Offs (PTOs), bin collapses, fires and explosions, electrical components and even ladders.

Identifying and understanding grain bin hazards is vital to keeping you and others safe.

Grain Bin Safety Week also brings attention to the life-saving extraction methods and procedures to help improve responder and victim safety when farmers and other workers become entrapped or engulfed in grain bins. The only way to safely remove someone trapped in a grain bin is to remove the grain around the person's body using a grain rescue tube or cofferdam.

Unfortunately, many fire departments and other first responders lack the grain rescue tube and training to perform a successful grain bin rescue.

Nationwide is collaborating with industry leaders and agricultural professionals to launch our third annual Nominate Your Fire Department Contest, which runs Jan. 1 through May 31. It awards grain rescue tubes and hands-on training to help first responders save lives, thanks to the support of KC Supply Co., the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety and our other partners.

In its first year in 2014, the contest awarded a grain rescue tube and training to the Westphalia (KS) Fire Department. Almost a year later, the Westphalia Fire Department used their new skills to rescue a man who became entrapped in a grain bin.

In 2015, the contest awarded grain rescue tubes and training to 12 departments from 11 states — including the Town of Turtle Fire Department near Beloit, WI.

Developing a zero-entry mentality towards grain storage is the best practice to prevent deadly grain bin accidents. If you must go in — as a means of last resort — it's important to know if your local fire department is properly equipped and trained to get you out — alive.

Until we can convince all farmers and other grain handlers to always take the necessary safety precautions, we'll continue to seek partnerships to help make grain rescue tubes and grain rescue training available to first responders. We hope you will partner with us in 2016 to help save lives, said Liggett.