Bin safety starts with grain quality

Farm Safety: Train yourself and your farm employees to avoid tragic grain bin accidents

Every year we hear tragic stories of deaths associated with grain bin entrapments. Despite continued efforts, the accidents keep happening. While it’s always good practice to remind farm staff of grain bin safety protocols, injuries and deaths could be dramatically reduced simply by eliminating their number one cause: storing out-of-condition grain.

“Virtually all entrapment events occur due to out-of-condition grain,” says Gary Woodruff, conditioning applications manager at GSI in Assumption, Illinois. “You don’t need to go into a bin if the grain is in good condition.”

What exactly is meant by good condition? According to Woodruff, it’s important to store your grain at the right moisture level, but that level will depend on what your plans are for it. For instance, grain that will be shipped in the spring should be stored at 15 per cent moisture, which grain that will be shipped next fall should be stored at 14 per cent. Grain that will be stored for longer than one year should be stored at 14 per cent moisture. “Reduce each by one per cent if grain is not excellent,” says Woodruff.

Woodruff also recommends taking out multiple cores of grain, enough to create a nine-foot diameter cone at the top of every 10 to 15 feet of depth as the bin is filled. Run aeration fans for five to 10 days after the bin is full, he says. This will help equalize kernel-to-kernel moisture.

Aeration isn’t just used to equalize moisture, though. Aeration can be used to lower grain temperature, and taking it down to 10 C will help combat insect activity and mould.

“Use the right amount of aeration air,” warns Woodruff. “Too much is as bad as or worse than too little. Aeration in a large bin will not hold high-moisture corn or reverse or stop a grain condition problem that is already in place. Only moving grain will help at this point, so follow the rules to prevent issues.”

Finally, Woodruff says it’s important to follow local university recommendations for aeration during storage, as conditions will vary depending on local weather and climate conditions.

Westeel general manager Bruce Allen agrees that out-of-condition grain is the No. 1 leading cause of grain bin deaths and accidents. And corn, he says, is particularly prone to problems. “The best way to prevent accidents is to detect and deal with the problem early, before it escalates into something major,” he says. “This is why early-detection practices, such as temperature monitoring, are utilized. Once detected, the problem can be appropriately dealt with using aeration, drying, etc.”

A zero-entry goal

Allen says that in 2010, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the U.S. issued a letter to all commercial grain installations advising that there had been too many associated deaths in the industry. They were warned that appropriate measures must to be taken to minimize the deaths and accidents associated with grain bin storage. The letter, says Allen, sparked a lot of activity.

“Today, you go to any industry conference or trade show and everyone is talking about and offering safety solutions, such as training and equipment,” he says.

While training and equipment will make entering the bin safer, the goal should be zero entry, he says. When entry is required, training is a must. Use proper procedures and appropriate safety equipment, and always have a person outside monitoring. Good practices, he says, involve working with personnel who:

  • Are aware of the dangers and the steps that can be taken to mitigate the hazards.
  • Understand and practice lockout procedures, tie-off procedures, external monitoring procedures and communication procedures.
  • Use harness and fall protection and arrest equipment that is properly secured.

When asked if personnel should attempt a rescue should an accident occur both men were clear: No.

“First responders are trained in a variety of hazards and methods to deal with dangerous environments,” says Allen. “If a problem is minor, there may be a safe way for a producer to remove the threat or deal with a problem. However, again, lack of training could turn a minor problem into a major problem if proper procedures are not followed.”

Woodruff agrees. “Call 911 and let emergency personnel handle the rescue to prevent making the situation worse or getting someone else entrapped,” he says.

About the author

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Melanie Epp is a freelance farm writer based in Guelph, Ont.

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