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Friday, March 25, 2011

When Did You Last Enter A Grain Bin Without Anyone Else Knowing It?


At least 51 individuals were either entrapped or engulfed in grain in 2010, and 25 of them did not escape with their life.  In all likelihood, there were more people who were trapped in grain last year but co-workers were able to retrieve them without filing any accident reports.  The 51 cases and 25 deaths continue the upward trend in which an increasing number of grain bin mishaps are occurring every year.  The trend brought together 10 of the 11 US grain bin manufacturers this week in which fierce competitors sat down at the same table in an effort to reverse the growing incidence of mortality on farms and in grain elevators.

The precedent-setting industry conference was convened for the purpose of listening to all stakeholders in the grain handling and grain management sector and embark on a path to establish legally-recognized standards for safety.  Unfortunately, 70% of the mishaps occur in farm grain bins, and the grain bin industry leaders can only set standards applicable for commercial grain storage operations.  Farm bins are not covered by any requirements for safety, where the Occupational Safety and Health Administration does not have any enforcement authority.  The only clout to force a change on farms may be wielded by the farm wife, and she may have a big job ahead.

Entrapment, which means someone cannot escape on his own, and engulfment, which means someone is totally submerged in grain, both spiked upward in 2010 because moisture retained by the stored 2009 crop caused it to deteriorate in condition.  When grain would not easily flow out of bins, many people climbed into the bin to dislodge crusted grain.  However, the increasing number of casualties in recent years reflects the increased number of bushels produced, handled and stored, particularly corn.  Although the number has been increasing, it has received very little attention compared to the deaths from grain dust explosions in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  But Wayne Bauer, Safety and Security Director for Star of the West Milling Co., of Frankenmuth, MI, said more people are losing their lives today in grain engulfment than from the dust explosions, yet there is very little attention paid by the media.  He said explosions were more spectacular than one person being buried by grain.

Farm Safety Specialist Bill Field of Purdue University said his data, dating back to 1964 is not complete, but details over 800 cases of grain entrapment and engulfment.  He said the lack of reporting requirements means there are probably 20% to 30% of cases that are not reported.  Field said there were 18.8 cases per year in the five years around 2002, but an average of 36 cases per year in the five years around 2010.  Of the 51 cases in 2010, 17 states recorded incidents:  IL-10, MN-8, WI-7, and IA-5.  All of them were male and 70% were on farms, including 6 incidents in which involved teens under 16, with 5 of them losing their lives.  Field said his 800+ cases involved 39 youths between 10 and 13 years of age, many of them playing in grain in trucks and wagons, a trend that lead to warning labels on grain wagons.  Field said that 74% of the cases resulted in death with the majority on farms and in corrugated steel bins.  50% of the cases involved corn that was out of condition.

Grain that has gone out of condition invites someone to enter a bin to spur the flow toward the auger unloading the bin.  That is the point at which the grain bin industry began to suggest rules that would reverse the trend toward the increased mortality.  Over the course of the next several years they will be working toward a number of “best management practices” which will be applicable to both commercial grain elevators, as well as farmers.  A preliminary list includes:
1)  Stay out of the bin if possible, which is a start to an industry wide practice of “zero entry mentality.”  Bins and grain handling equipment will be designed so that no one will have reason to enter a bin where grain could entrap or engulf them, and where no one would be injured by unloading equipment.

2) If you must enter the grain bin, do not do it alone.  Have someone present who will be able to respond and call emergency personnel should a problem occur.

3) Anyone entering a bin or watching someone working in a bin will be trained in safety procedures to help effect a rescue.

4) Completely turn off and disengage any mechanical equipment before entering a bin and ensure that no one can inadvertently turn on the equipment while someone was in the bin.

5) Wear a harness and secure a lifeline to a reinforced point on the bin to ensure someone can assist you in escaping a life threatening situation.

6)  Be prepared for any emergency.

While those rules can be included in standard operating procedures for the local grain elevator, there is a good chance that many farmers will ignore most or all of them when trying to unload grain bins on their farm.  In that case, there will be no OSHA or Department of Labor posters on the side of the bin.  The only rule will be the authority of the farm wife who will demand that no one enters a bin without her knowing it, and all precautions are observed.

The number of casualties in grain bins has been steadily increasing whether it is entrapment or engulfment where a life has been lost.  The wet corn from the 2009 harvest caused most of the mishaps in 2010 in which 25 lives were lost.  Since 70% of the mishaps occurred on farms and 74% of them resulted in death, the grain bin manufacturers have convened a joint effort to develop industry standards that are designed to reverse the trend.


Posted by Stu Ellis on 03/25 at 10:05 PM | Permalink

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