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Get a Leg Up on Bin Safety

Grain handling is more than a matter of logistics and cubic
feet of storage. The bottom line comes down to what best management practices
are you implementing to minimize a worst-case safety risk scenario?

The price tag of a basic lock-out/tag-out kit is $100; a
safe body harness is available for $400 to $500. But securing the safety line
inside the bin has been a stumbling block.

"One big problem has been the lack of a safe entry
system," says Bob Aherin, University of Illinois professor of agricultural
and biological engineering and Extension safety specialist. "Through the
Grain Handling Safety Coalition, we're developing an anchor point and safety
harness system for under $1,000 per bin. It should be available this year for
use in any bin manufactured in the past 20 to 25 years."

The innovation would help reduce the risks. Purdue
University's Agricultural Confined Spaces Database contains nearly 900 fatal
and nonfatal grain storage and handling-related cases. Illinois, Minnesota,
Iowa, Wisconsin, and Indiana account for the lion's share. But safety is a
growing concern in many other states.

"We're handling more corn than ever, and proper
handling of all grain crops can help reduce accidents related to storage,"
says Jason Ward, professor of ag and biological engineering, Mississippi State
University Extension.

Grain handling sets the stage. Purdue University's
statistics show that out-of-condition grain "was the single most
significant contributing cause" of fatalities. 

"I always say the first rule of entering a bin is don't
ever go into a bin," Ward says. "Since that's unrealistic, I tell
people never to go into a bin alone. Make sure someone knows you're in there
and stands by the door. Make sure the augers are turned off, locked, and tagged
with a note letting others know you're in the bin. Make sure the fans are
turned on to keep fresh air circulating."

Aherin is a member of the new Grain Handling Safey Coalition
including 25 private and public organizations developing new grain safety
education programs. For more information, visit

Greater safeguards

Confined space safety is one of 12 action priorities in the
2003 National Land Grant Research and Extension Agenda for Ag Safety and

The American Society of Agricultural and Biological
Engineers is finalizing a new standard for bin manufacturers that includes
interior anchor points and four other redesigns listed below.

  1. Larger entry doors at
    base of bin to aid rescuers and help an observer gain a better inside view of
    the bin.
  2. Platform at roof access opening to help rescuers as well as an observer.
  3. A

    nchor points designed
    to support a person equipped with a safety harness and safety rope to withstand
    1,900 pounds of force.

  4. Larger roof access
    opening to provide easier access for rescuers to extricate a victim and to
    accommodate bulky protective gear.

Aherin helped form the Grain Handling Safety Coalition in
2011, after the deaths of two Illinois teens hired to work in a bin. The boys,
ages 14 and 19, were trapped when they were required to enter a bin – untrained
and without safety gear – to break up clumps of grain.

Federal farm labor laws restrict youth under 16 years
(unless they work on a farm owned or operated by a parent or guardian) from
being hired to work inside a confined space or space that contains a
suffocation hazard or toxic environment. For more information, visit

"These new safety features would make a big difference
getting into a grain bin, moving around, and getting out safely," Aherin
says. "They'll add slightly to the cost of bins, but not that much. Loss
of life is a huge cost, too."

Safety first:

  1. Stay out of bins if possible.
  2. Never enter a bin alone without an observer
  3. Never enter a bin untrained.
  4. Shut down/lock out all equipment.
  5. Secure a lifeline.
  6. Train workers for emergencies.

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