Farming is dangerous. It is twice as deadly as law enforcement and five time deadlier than firefighting per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Grain bin accidents rank in the top five of farm dangers, with grain bin entry exposing workers to potential suffocation hazards in a matter of seconds. Flowing grain can trap someone standing in the grain in just 4 to 5 seconds and completely cover them in 22 seconds, according to the Grain Handling Safety Coalition.
Other grain handling dangers — grain dust explosions, falls, and equipment entanglement — also lurk within and outside storage bins.
Injuries and fatalities can be avoided with thorough planning and ongoing communication with farm workers and your farm family.
Have a pre-entry plan in place that identifies workers’ roles and responsibilities, equipment lock-outs, communication channels, equipment needed for the job, and the emergency action plan for all scenarios that could put workers in danger.
Don’t Work Alone
When the chore is urgent, it’s easy to simply want to handle it yourself. But grain bin work should include at least two people: the person entering the bin and a reliable and alert worker outside the bin whose job is to watch the person in the bin. The “watch” person should stay in contact with the worker inside the bin either visually or verbally. If the person in the bin becomes trapped, the second worker should not enter the bin, but rather dial 911 and alert other workers of the situation.
Lock Out, Tag Out
When grain is emptied or moved, it creates a suction that can pull a worker into the grain in seconds. To prevent this from happening and before anyone enters the grain bin, turn off and disconnect, lock out, tag out or block off all mechanical equipment. This is crucial to ensure grain will not be emptied or moved in the bin while workers are inside.
Test Air Quality
Use a calibrated and bump tested air monitor to test the air within a bin for the oxygen level and presence of toxic gases produced by spoiled or deteriorating grain hidden underneath good grain. If it is not safe, ventilate the bin until any unsafe atmospheric conditions are eliminated. It’s recommended to use a personal oxygen monitor that accurately tests air quality and warns you of unsafe oxygen levels.
Wear Safety Gear
Workers who must enter a grain bin should wear a body harness and a lifeline. Ensure the lifeline is long enough and positioned correctly to prevent a worker from sinking more than waist-deep in grain. Inspect the grain bin space before entering, paying special attention to hung up grain and bridged grain. Prohibit entry onto (or below) a bridged area where grain has built up on the side of the bin. Also consider prohibiting workers from “walking down grain” to break it up and make it flow.
Schedule Regular Maintenance
Maintaining equipment and keeping a clean and sanitized space will help prevent a grain dust explosion.
OSHA standards require fugitive dust to be removed when accumulations exceed one-eighth of an inch. Consider implementing efforts to reduce and remove grain dust in all work areas, training your workers to identify unsafe conditions, take proactive action and communicate any concerns.
The nature of the work puts farmers and farmworkers at a high risk for injuries, especially farmers who work alone and in remote areas. For the sake of those who love and depend on you, consider taking steps to ensure your safety while working in and around grain.