As summer nears its end, elevators are preparing for an influx of grain: cleaning bins, inspecting machinery and investing in new equipment to handle what will no doubt be another record harvest. During this time new employees will be brought onboard, and seasoned veterans will be bracing themselves, knowing what to expect from peak season. In the midst of making these necessary preparations, management should also be reviewing its safety and training policies.
When was the last time your team reviewed bin safety procedures and protocol? Has your facility ever hosted grain engulfment rescue training with employees and local first responders? For new employees and old, annual grain entrapment education and training is essential in preventing the unthinkable.
According to Purdue University’s Agricultural Safety & Health Program’s National Grain Entrapment Database, a log tracking entrapment cases since 1964, 38 grain entrapments occurred in 2009. This is up roughly 10% from 2007 and 2008; and it is the highest recorded number since 1993.
Entrapment incidents have been trending upward, but what’s driving this upswing?
Many point to the sheer volume of grain — corn in particular — being produced and handled in the United States. While other commodities can also pose a threat to careless individuals, most entrapment incidents occur in corn bins.
“Aside from the amount of corn being handled, the condition of the 2009 harvest has contributed to the recent spike in the number of fatalities,” says Wayne Bauer, safety and security director, Star of the West Milling Co., and former president of GEAPS.
A common thread links most engulfment incidents: poor grain quality. Bridging and other problematic formations create situations where employees feel compelled to enter the bin to dislodge grain. Simply keeping the grain in condition is one solution in combating grain entrapment incidents.
“If we’ve done our job putting grain into storage — and maintain it once it’s in the bin — there would be no reason to enter it,” Carol Jones, assistant professor, stored product engineering, Oklahoma State University, says.
The year-round demand for ethanol requires facilities to store grain for longer periods adding to the quality issue. Jones suggests elevators detect, monitor and address even minor grain quality issues before they reach a point when it is necessary to enter a bin to remediate the problem.
Grain quality aside, the installation of safer and more efficient systems will deter bin entrance. As new equipment is installed or existing structures are retrofitted with new equipment, Bauer suggests, for example, elevators add larger discharge sump holes (24’ x 24’) and decent service tunnels under the floor of the bin (7 feet high with good lighting and drainage) so employees can work safely and comfortably.
The general state of the economy may have also contributed to the tragic trend. As businesses run leaner than ever, the lack of excess labor may put employees in a position to attempt to clean a bin alone rather than with proper oversight, Bauer notes.
Perhaps an intangible, psychological factor plays a part in this equation: The refusal to acknowledge that grain can be dangerous, and treat it accordingly.
“It’s a human nature to believe we are safe at work; we hate to admit there is a hazard in what we’re doing,” states Mark Baker, coordinator for State Line Rescue. “And no one wants to admit it could happen to them.”
The only surefire way to combat and prevent the engulfment incidents is through proper safety training.
5 ENGULFMENT PREVENTION TIPS
Despite the level of experience an employee may have, new and seasoned employees alike are at risk for getting themselves into trouble — a combination of arrogance fueled by perceived experience (“I’ve done this a million times and nothing happened”) or naivety due to lack of proper training.