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Avoid grain bin entrapment

Last year, more than 30 U.S. farmers died after becoming trapped and suffocating in grain bins. David Dowdy was one of them.

"Please take time to use the safety equipment," says Pam Dowdy, wife of the Stoddard County, Missouri, farmer who lost his life last year when he tried to loosen a layer of crusted grain inside one of his bins. "It is not any good in the back of a pickup or in the toolshed."

Despite quick action by his son Matt after he'd become trapped inside the bin, Dowdy lost his life in what's too common an occurence on grain farms around the country. Even the quickest action after a farmer becomes trapped isn't usually quick enough, says Karen Funkenbusch, University of Missouri agricultural safety specialist.

"Entrapment can happen within an instant," she says. "Research shows you can be completely submerged in about 8 seconds in a typical grain bin operation.

"Because of the tremendous force of flowing grain, you are helpless to escape once you are trapped knee-deep in grain," she adds.

Worthington, Minnesota, farmer Patrick Riley talks about his idea to avoid entering filled grain bins that netted him a top honor in the Successful Farming 2009 Ag Innovator program, sponsored by Asgrow.


Patrick Riley knows this situation all too well. Years ago, the Worthington, Minnesota, farmer lost a close friend and neighboring farmer when he became trapped in a grain bin.

"It just aggravates me," Riley says. "There are not enough of us farmers out there as it is."

But, he's not taking the problem lying down. Riley has devised a system that, despite its humble beginnings, has now become a potentially life-saving tool for any farmer who works in and around grain bins.

The finalist in the 2009 Successful Farming and Ag Innovator program, sponsored by Asgrow, has developed a system based on a shotgun that uses "ballistic projectiles" to break up crusted grain in the bin.

At first, he literally walked up to the bin door with his 12-gauge loaded with steel-shot shells and fired into the grain to break up the crust. From there, "we just learned," he says, and today he's developed different types of "door guns" that aim shot to break up crusted grain without making it necessary for the farmer to enter the bin.

"Most guys that farm are getting older and shouldn't be getting in bins anyway," Riley says. "There are so many other ways other than going into the bin, and shooting t-shot into the top of the bin to break up the crust is one of them."

Riley's invention is just one way to avoid grain bin entrapment. Here are a few other safety tips for working in and around grain bins from the National Safety Council:

  • Label grain bins to warn of entrapments. Lock entrances to grain handling areas to keep out bystanders and children.
  • Install ladders inside the bins. Do not enter grain bins that are being loaded or unloaded. If it's necessary to enter a bin, shut off and lock out power before entering. Use a safety harness and safety line. Have several people available outside.
  • Be aware of grain that is out of condition. Crusted grain may have cavities beneath the surface that can collapse.

For Ag Innovator program finalist Riley, his invention and other ways to avoid having to enter a grain-filled bin are significant not just in saving lives, but saving an entire industry in rural America.

"I just don't want to see anybody else getting killed. I can't think of any farmers out there that I hate that much," he jokes. "There's not enough of us farmers left the way it is. It's sad to see. If this can save somebody or help somebody else save a neighbor, more power to them."

Last year, more than 30 U.S. farmers died after becoming trapped and suffocating in grain bins. David Dowdy was one of them.

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