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Grain bin entrapment happens in the blink of an eye

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.

The peak time for grain bin entrapment is late-winter through
summer.

Cutting holes in the bin to remove grain from around the
victim is the best rescue technique. Building a coffer dam around a partially
engulfed victim and using a vacuum grain mover to remove grain inside the dam
is another method.

Unfortunately, many rescuers aren't trained. For information
on training, contact the Fire Service Institute at University of Illinois
(217/778-6652) or the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety in
Peosta, Iowa (888/844-6322).

Even when rescue efforts are successful, extrication can
cause serious injuries.

"Once a person is buried up to about his chin in grain,
it takes about 800 pounds of force to pull out a normal-size individual,"
Field says. "Most human bodies can't stand that kind of force."

He says permanent safety ropes may offer false security. A
ladder inside a bin may be located too far away to reach.

The best way to avoid grain entrapment is to prevent stored
crop from spoiling. If grain forms a crust, Field advises.

-         
Before walking on grain, stand outside the bin
and probe the surface with a pole.

-         
Never stand on grain that is knee deep or higher
with augers running.

-         
Lock out and tag the electrical control circuit
prior to entering a bin.

-         
Do not work alone in a bin.

"Twenty years ago, David pulled a neighbor from a
bin," Pam says. "It was too late to save him. People say they'll
remember to be safe, but time goes by, and then it happens again to someone
else."

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