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Safeguard the harvest

CHERYL TEVIS 10/14/2013 @ 7:30pm Cheryl has been an editor at Successful Farming since 1979.

Photo by Roger Lugo, Times Citizen

The task at hand was a routine seasonal chore for the two Iowans. The outcomes for 23-year-old Arick Baker and 30-year-old Brandon Mullen were dramatically different.

On June 26, Baker was using a PVC pipe to unplug grain in an 80,000-bushel grain bin on his parents’ farm near New Providence. Suddenly, he was sucked into an air pocket and was engulfed into 22,000 bushels of corn. Only the fingers of his left hand remained above the grain. Baker, who had asthma as a child, was wearing a battery-powered air supplying respirator. Five hours later, he was rescued from the bin.

On July 9, Mullen was working on a Dayton, Iowa, farm with others. He entered a bin alone and possibly hit an air pocket. His lifeless body was recovered 90 minutes later.

Kelley Donham, Iowa Center for Agricultural Safety and Health, says prevention remains the gold standard for grain bin safety. “We don’t advocate that all that’s needed for safety is wearing a powered air respirator,” he says. “Confined-space entry procedures are necessary to prevent an engulfment.”

This includes lock-out/tag-out to prevent unsafe entry, a body harness, secure lifeline, and a bystander outside the bin.  

The Grain Handling Safety Coalition (GHSC) recently developed an OSHA-approved safety harness and anchor-point system to retrofit bins. Proposed industry standards may require new bins to include these lifesaving features, but farmers must use them. Learn more by visiting grainsafety.org.

Concerns are mounting that the late-planted 2013 crop may create storage challenges, setting the stage for greater suffocation hazards.

“Keeping grain in good condition is the primary way to prevent incidents,” Donham says.

Many safety experts advise zero entry. Donham says the use of remote-controlled sensors and monitoring devices is a step toward this goal.

Although commercial-size bins are increasingly common on farms, remote monitoring is used less often than at commercial facilities. 

“Two bin fatalities this year were from apparent carbon monoxide poisoning because of a smoldering fire,” he says. “Technology could warn of the hazard, but it won’t always prevent it.”

Emergency plan

Rescue training also plays a role. One year ago, John Hammes, 60, died in a grain bin on his Richland, Iowa, farm. His daughter-in-law, Mandy, has teamed up with the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety in Peosta, Iowa, to deliver a safety message to 700 individuals and train over 200 firefighters.

“Rescue tubes, masks, a harness, and lifeline are useful tools,” says Catherine Rylatt, who helped found GHSC after her 19-year-old nephew died in a bin.

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