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Grain bin entrapment happens in the blink of an eye

Agriculture.com Staff Updated: 07/12/2010 @ 3:36pm

Cheryl Tevis
Successful Farming magazine Issues Editor

When Pam Dowdy's husband left the house on the morning of August 12, he asked her to call the elevator. The Dexter, Missouri, farmer said he'd be home for an early lunch.

Eight months later, David Dowdy's place at the table remains empty.

"We knew the grain was crusted," she says. "I told him to wait until help got there, but he was in a hurry. When our son Matt found him a few minutes later, all he could do was hold his hand and tell him 'I love you, Dad.'"

More than 600 farmers over the past 40 years, including David Dowdy, have suffocated in flowing grain. This year may be more hazardous because so much of last falls grain was wet at harvesttime.

"Many grain entrapments are fatal because farmers underestimate the tremendous force of flowing grain and how quickly they can be pulled under," says Bill Field, Purdue University Extension farm safety specialist.

In less than 20 seconds, a person standing in flowing grain would be submerged to the shoulders. After 60 seconds in a full bin, a person's head would be submerged about 6 feet below.

Most flowing-grain entrapments occur when a farmer enters the bin while the center unloading auger is running and the grain is above an adult's height.

Three other situations pose risks.

-          Bridged grain that forms when moldy grain sticks together.

-          Spoiled grain along a wall that breaks loose, causing an avalanche.

-          Operating a grain vacuum in a bin. "The vacuum starts drawing grain from beneath, and a person sinks," Field says. "Trying to lift a heavy vacuum pipe forces a person into the grain."

He advises moving the vacuum intake frequently to avoid forming a cone depression and keeping the grain surface level. "Work from an outside wall and move inward," Field says.

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