Today, increased storage capacities, larger and faster handling capacities, and automation contribute to many potentially hazardous situations in feed and grain facilities.
Suffocation from grain engulfment is probably one of the most common causes of death in and around grain bins, says David E. Baker, Department of Agricultural Engineering, University of Missouri Extension, in his article, “Safe Storage and Handling of Grain.” These accidents occur quickly — usually in a manner of seconds — when a victim enters a bin and is unaware of potential hazards.
Crusted, spoiled grain can form large vertical masses. If you try to get the caked material loose, large sections of grain can break off and cover you.
This risk increases as the capacity of the bin increases. When you are breaking up large masses of caked grain, use a long pole and work from a manhole above the grain, suggests Baker.
Carbon dioxide is another hazard. When wet grain is stored it ferments. Fermentation produces carbon dioxide (CO2), a colorless, odorless gas. If you enter a grain bin where carbon dioxide is present, it gets into your bloodstream and slows down your breathing, causing drowsiness, headaches and even suffocation.
Proper storage and management of grain not only increases the quality of the product, but also makes for a safer environment.
The most important measure to prevent grain entrapments is proper grain management. Grain that is stored at the correct moisture content, 14% or less for long term storage, and is protected from the elements remains in good condition and is easier to remove from the storage structure without plugging.
There is a direct correlation between out-of-condition grain and the increased probability of entrapment, says “Against the Grain: Safe Grain Storage and Handling Practices for Youth & Beginning Workers” from Purdue University.
Temperature swings can wreak havoc on stored grain. Stored grain should remain within 20 degrees of the outside temperature during the fall season by using aeration, according to a report from Landmark Services Cooperative, “7 Tips for Grain Storage,” found at landmark.coop.
During winter, the grain temperatures should be cooled to within 20 degrees of the coldest average monthly temperature or at or below 35 F to 40 F.
Temperature should be taken at the top of the bin. Once the aeration fans have started to cool the grain, do not shut them off until the desired temperature is reached.
Depending on the size of the storage unit, it may take several days to accomplish this.
Landmark Services Cooperative also recommends checking stored grain on a biweekly basis throughout fall and winter. Check and record the grain’s temperature and condition at several locations.
Temperature history can be used to detect grain warming, which may indicate storage problems. Look for indications of problems, such as condensation on the roof or crusting of the grain surface.
Open or unlatch the grain bin’s fill or access cover during fan operation to serve as a pressure relief valve, says Landmark. Bin vents may become blocked by frost or ice if fans run when the outdoor air temperature is near or below freezing. The resulting air pressure may damage the bin roof. Cover the aeration fan when it is not operating to prevent pests and moisture in the form of snow, fog and rain from entering the bin.
Core the bin out to make an inverted cone. Doing this will help keep the air flow of the grain as you warm it back up to within 20 degrees of the outside temperature this spring.
Pockets of fines, weed seeds and broken kernels tend to be more prevalent in the center of the bin. You should move at least enough to level the bin off or to start an inverted cone. This will also allow you to check the quality of the grain that is moved out of the bin. Landmark also recommends warming up the grain in the spring. Just like in the fall and winter you need to cool the grain down, you should also slowly warm the grain back up in the spring.
Keep the grain temperature within 15 to 20 degrees of the average daily outside temperature. Once the grain temperature is 55 F to 60 F, warming is no longer needed.
For more information
If you need more information on proper grain storage techniques, your local County Extension Office will have access to grain management resources from across the country. Manufacturers of grain storage systems are also an important resource. There are also websites, such as www.standupevents.org/grain/index.cfm, that provide helpful information. ■
When inspecting, cleaning or emptying grain out of storage bins please use extreme caution and practice all safety practices and procedures. It is not recommended to ever enter a storage bin from the top when it is full of grain. If you need to do so be sure to test the air quality inside the bin with an air quality monitor, make sure all the unloading equipment is shut off and locked out, have all the required safety equipment and have an observer to help you.
Information provided by Landmark Services Cooperative.
By the Numbers
In 2017, the latest year data is available, no fewer than 54 fatal and non-fatal cases involving agricultural confined spaces were documented.
Of these, 23 (43%) of the cases were fatal and 23 (43%) were directly related to grain entrapments.
In addition to the cases documented in 2017, cases that occurred in previous years continue to be added to the database due to ongoing discovery efforts. The total number of cases documented between 1962 and 2017 is 1,989.
Of those, 1,187 cases (61%) were reported as fatal and 1,432 (74%) involved grain storage and handling facilities.
Information provided by the 2017 Summary of U.S. Agricultural Confined Space-Related Injuries and Fatalities, June 2018
Save the Date: 2019 Stand-Up for Grain Safety Week
The National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are hosting a major safety outreach effort, the “Stand-Up for Grain Safety Week” from March 25-29, to help raise awareness about grain handling and storage hazards, provide education and training, and convey safety best practices.
During the Stand-Up for Grain Safety Week, companies may participate by providing a focused activity and/or toolbox talk on any prevention measure.
Participating companies will be encouraged to fill out information about their safety activities at standupevents.org/grain, which provides training materials and a certificate of participation. Participants can share Stand-Up success stories on social media with the hashtag: #StandUp4GrainSafety.
The campaign is made possible by the NGFA-OSHA Alliance in collaboration with Grain Elevator and Processing Society, the American Feed Industry Association and the Grain Handling Safety Coalition. The NGFA has several resources, including Safety Tip Sheets, guidance documents and training videos, for companies wishing to become involved in the campaign. Visit ngfa.org for more information.
- Never enter a bin while unloading grain or to break up a grain bridge. Flowing grain will pull a person into the grain mass, burying the individual in a few seconds. A wall of grain can collapse without warning and cover a person.
- Never enter a grain bin without stopping the auger and using the lockout/tagout procedures to secure it. Use a key-type padlock to lock the auger switch in the “off” position to assure that the equipment does not start automatically or someone does not start the equipment accidentally.
- If you become trapped in a bin of flowing grain with nothing to hold onto but you are still able to walk, stay near the outside wall. Keep walking until the bin is empty or grain flow stops.
- If you are covered by flowing grain, cup your hands over your mouth and take short breaths. This may keep you alive until help arrives.
- Maintain protective guards on equipment.
- Install safety equipment on grain bins.
- Wear a dust mask.
- Use correct fumigation procedures.
- Be prepared for emergencies — always have a working radio or cell phone when performing hazardous tasks around grain storage. Keep in mind, cell phones may not function inside a metal grain bin.
- Never enter alone — always make sure you have a partner or companion watching your back.