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Proper Grain Condition is First Step to Accident Prevention

A number of industry associations and grain-handling equipment businesses have partnered with OSHA to recognize Stand-Up for Engulfment Prevention Week April 9-13. The goal of the campaign is to raise awareness for grain-handling safety. As part of the effort, a free webinar was held on Tuesday. While many people participating in organized events around the country are employees of large feed and grain companies, the week serves as an important reminder for private operators, as well.

Greg Rowe is the vice president of operations, safety, health, and environment at Perdue AgriBusiness and serves as chairman of National Grain and Feed Association’s Safety, Health, and Environmental Quality Committee. He says out-of-condition grain is often a leading factor in grain entrapment situations.

Proper Condition As Prevention

Grain is much more prone to crusting and cliffing when it is stored at the wrong moisture level or without proper aeration. Taking the proper steps to store grain long term can go a long way in preventing potentially hazardous situations.

It is important to note ground piles may also be prone to cliffing. Materials like woodchips and silage can easily form this dangerous shape.

Common Entrapment Situations

Rowe explained to webinar participants that confined space entrapment often happens because of one of three situations.

  1. Sometimes clumps of grain may clog unloading equipment. Entrapment accidents often occur when you enter the bin to free the blockage without shutting off the power. Once the debris is free, grain begins moving again quickly, sucking everything in its path toward the flow of grain. If you're in the bin, you may become buried or even caught in the unloading device.
  2. Entrapment can also occur when you walk out onto bridged grain. This is where a firm crust has formed on the top of the grain. It may appear to be a solid pile, but once it gives way, you can fall.
  3. Aalanche entrapment situations often occur when you enter the confined space to break apart grain stuck to the wall on one side. Once you start knocking it free, it can land on top of you.

“Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can get out of the way fast enough,” warns Rowe.

In an avalanche situation, don’t make the mistake of thinking you will be alright because you are tall, Rowe explains. You may be 6 feet tall, but if the moving grain pushes you over, you can still be severely hurt or killed.

Safety Tips

Working from outside the bin is always recommended. If you must enter the storage area, it is important to keep these safety tips in mind.

1. Shut off dangerous equipment. Cut off power to all unloading equipment to prevent entanglement or engulfment once the blockage is freed.

2. Check for unsafe gases or atmosphere. Dangerous gases can build up in confined spaces. Determine if ventilation or respiratory protective equipment is necessary before entering. Double-check there are no running vehicles or machinery nearby expelling exhaust fumes that can build up in the bin. Be careful around dust that may make it difficult to breath and can be combustible.

3. Always use the buddy system. Never, ever enter a grain bin alone. An attendant who doesn’t enter the confined space should always maintain communication, verbal and visual, with you.

In the case of an emergency, Rowe emphasizes, “the attendant must never enter the confined space for rescue, unless trained for the rescue, equipped, and relieved.” Waiting to be relieved is often overlooked, but is so important. It is critical that someone watch and stay in communication with you from the outside to ensure more people aren’t injured.

4. Contact your local rescue team before you enter. Before you set foot inside the confined space, call your local rescue team. Let them know you plan to enter and make sure they can be ready to help, should the need arise. If they are addressing another emergency and will not be available, do not enter. This call does not replace an attendant watching from outside the space.

Rescue Plans

Although the goal is to work from outside the bin and no one expects to be involved in an entrapment accident, it is important to have a rescue plan in place ahead of time.

After developing a rescue plan, be sure it is clearly communicated to everyone on your farm.

Check that new or temporary people know the plan and how to execute it. They need to know not to enter confined spaces without proper training, equipment, and supervision, even if that isn’t expected to be among their responsibilities. Unfortunately, additional injuries or deaths often occur when someone unprepared enters the space to help someone who is already trapped.

Consider sending members of your operation to a training course for grain rescue. Their ability to act may be the difference between life and death when emergency teams come from a distance, as is often the case in rural areas.

Have open dialogue with your local emergency response teams before an incident occurs. Give them the chance to become familiar with your facilities. Offering your farm as a place to train for a grain entrapment scenario may be helpful.

Find out if your local fire department is equipped with a grain bin rescue tube. If not, you may nominate them for equipment and training from Nationwide, the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety and their many partners.

Since 2014, the program has awarded 48 tubes throughout the country. Paul Stevenson leads the program for Nationwide and says the company expects to distribute about 30 additional tubes in 2018. He reminds farmers the deadline to nominate their local fire department for this year is April 30.

“So far, two of the awarded tubes have been used to save lives,” Stevenson says. “One in Minnesota and one in Kansas. That makes you feel good.” But for Stevenson, he says the real goal of the program is education. It would be great if people never had to enter a grain bin. If they do, he wants to make sure they know how to do it safely.

Stevenson emphasized the grain rescue tubes don’t replace safety measures that should be taken when working in and around grain facilities. Relying on fire department because they have a rescue tube is not the program's intention at all. “The rescue tube can only be helpful if you’re not completely engulfed,” he stresses. “The key here is education. That comes first; the rescue tube comes second.

"Accidents happen when there are farmers who are rushing through their day and say they have to get in there and get something fixed. We want them to think about safety from the start,” he adds.

Capital Investments

As Rowe discussed rescue plans and safety in the webinar, he pointed out investments in updated grain storage may also help prevent grain-handling accidents. For farms in rural areas where emergency crews would take longer than 10 minutes to respond, this might be an especially wise choice.

GSI recently introduced the Zero-Entry Unload System with Flexwave technology, designed to eliminate the dirty and dangerous chore of manual grain bin cleanout. Instead, a pair of industrial-grade liners at the bottom of the bin take turns inflating to push grain toward a centrally located conveyor trough.

“FlexWave technology results in 99% cleanout and eliminates the risk of entrapment from falling grain or auger entanglement since it is truly a zero-entry bin unload method,” says Greg Trame, GSI director of engineering.

A limited offering of the Zero-Entry Unload System with Flexwave technology is planned for 2018, involving hopper bins and smaller-diameter grain bins used for short-term storage. GSI expects to introduce the system in larger-capacity grain bins for long-term grain storage for the 2019 harvest season.  For additional information, farmers can visit http://www.grainsystems.com/zero-entry/.

Gary Woodruff is a conditioning applications manager for the company. He says he is excited about the safety benefits of the new bin cleanout system. “Over my career, I’ve known way too many people hurt or killed in grain bin accidents. To think we may be able to put an end to that is the best part of this technology.”

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