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Review grain bin safety rules before harvest

David Ekstrom 09/03/2013 @ 4:47pm

With harvest season soon approaching, it is important for farmers and family members to remember grain bin safety. Many farmers have worked around grain bins for most of their lives and think a grain engulfment accident won’t happen to them. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration reports that at least 26 U.S. workers were killed by grain engulfment in 2010, the highest on record. This is a number not to be taken lightly.

According to University of Missouri Extension rural safety and health specialist Karen Funkenbusch, the weight of the grain and other properties make it difficult to escape the bin without assistance. Flowing grain has the properties of quicksand. “It takes only five seconds for a person to be caught in flowing grain, and less than 20 seconds to be sucked into the center,” said Funkenbusch. A child can be buried in far less time.

According to Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, 1 foot of grain over an entire individual would weigh approximately 300 pounds. This is normally too much weight for a person to break free.  All augers and grain-moving equipment should be turned off before anyone enters a bin. Farmers should never walk along the bin’s side to make the grain flow or walk on a crusted/bridged grain, which can collapse under a person’s weight. If the bridged grain is higher than the person’s head and breaks free, a grain avalanche may occur and engulf the person leading to injury or possible death.

Funkenbusch advises grain producers to design and install reclaim systems that allow access to the grain without having to enter the bins. Service tunnels at least 7 feet high and with good lighting and drainage are also recommended. Also, a larger access door of 3 feet by 3 feet with a platform and handrails is preferred to a 24-inch round opening on the side of the bin.

Farm families should discuss safety measures with one another and develop a plan of action if such an event occurs. Safety experts formed a national Grain Entrapment Prevention Initiative, which emphasizes six points of bin safety:

1.    Develop a “zero entry” mentality. Stay out of the bin.
2.    If you must enter, do not go alone.
3.    Provide hands-on training for the entrant and observer.
4.    Follow an entry permit.
5.    Shut down and lockout.
6.    Use a secure body harness lifeline.

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