Make Grain Bin Safety A Priority – Grain Bin Safety Week

Led by a national agriculture-oriented insurance carrier, with support from a few grain companies, an initiative is under way this week to draw attention to grain bin safety.

Designated as Grain Bin Safety Week, this is the first year of a formal observance.  It is quite appropriate for it to be held at this time of year and it comes none too soon.

The entire focus is designed to ensure that anyone who enters a grain bin comes out of that grain bin alive.  That is not always the case.

Headlines earlier this month told the story of an international grain company with a facility in Western Illinois that was held responsible for the deaths of two teens who suffocated in a bin full of corn.  A third co-worker, who was partially trapped in the grain, escaped with his life.

A bin full of grain is quite similar to a rock; it doesn’t do much until it is unloaded. And just like a rock rolling down a mountain, it can cause a landslide with horrific results. Flowing grain is a fluid that can and will drown anyone that might be pulled into the undertow. One’s chest is compressed from the weight. Breathing is prevented. And there is no opportunity to even dial a cell phone to summon help.  Escape isn’t an option.

Federal laws administered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration can levy heavy penalties when grain elevator workers don’t have the proper harness, training, observers and written permission to enter a grain bin.  When OSHA began to nibble at grain handling operations that looked more like farms than commercial elevators, Congress quickly told OSHA inspectors not to go there under any circumstances.

Bins are the same on farms as they are at elevators.  Grain is the same. And the physics of flowing grain do not change with the name on the mailbox.  While OSHA may not be allowed to inspect on-farm grain handling operations, there is another enforcer that might wield even more authority and impact – the farm wife.  And if only she knew the chances that husbands and sons take when trying to get grain to flow out of a grain bin.

At this time of year, when the temperature usually begins to warm up, changes occur in a grain bin. This is particularly true if the grain has a higher percentage of moisture from an unusually wet harvest like last year.  Moisture and warmer temperatures encourage mold growth and grain kernels congeal and will not flow out of a bin into an auger or conveyor system as it should.

Walking on crusted grain over a void in a grain bin or trying to loosen grain stuck to a bin wall only invites a visit by the coroner and recovery personnel from the local fire department.  The side of a bin is cut open and grain is pulled out until a body is visible.

Entrapments reached a high of 57 in 2010 after the wet harvest of 2009.  This year is parallel to 2010, because of the wet harvest of 2013. Elevator managers report grain is being delivered from farm bins at much higher moisture than farmers realized.  It is too cold now for mold to grow, but after a few 50-degree days the bin will bloom.

There will be deaths this year, both in farm bins and at grain elevators.  Hard working folks will not come home for supper.  That is the reason for the designation of Grain Bin Safety Week. Farm wives need to be aware and adopt their own set of OSHA rules.

Stu Ellis is an observer of the Central Illinois agriculture scene. Keep up with him on his blog at:

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