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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 Health.

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. Anchor 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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