Stored grain in poor condition can be a recipe for death. More quality problems in storing grain this past season resulted in more problems with loading it out. There were more than 38 grain entrapments recorded in the U.S. in 2009, the highest number since 1993, according to a report from Purdue University’s Agriculture Safety and Health Program. Forty-two percent of those entrapped didn’t make it out alive.
Chuck Hoffman isn’t surprised. He directs the Rapid Response Rescue Team in the training division of the Nebraska State Fire Marshal’s office and has been personally involved in two dramatic grain-entrapment rescue missions.
At a glance
• The U.S. had more than 38 grain entrapments in 2009.
• Never enter a grain bin without someone assisting.
• Plan ahead before jumping inside a grain bin.
“In the first incident, one victim extracted himself, and the other two were successfully extracted by the fire department personnel,” Hoffman says. “The second incident involved the complete burial of the victim in grain to a level about 2 feet above his head.” He didn’t make it.
“All of these incidents were emotionally draining for the rescue crews involved,” Hoffman says. “In the second case, the victim was a life-long friend of many department members and a family member to some department personnel.”
Save your life
Hoffman says that entrapments like that are avoidable. When storing grain and working around grain handling systems, there are basic safety measures that farmers and grain handling workers can take that might save their lives:
• Never go in alone. Make sure someone is there, watching and assisting. Cell phones normally do not work inside a metal or concrete grain bin.
• Get harnessed up. Anyone planning to enter a bin should wear a harness and a safety line secured to the individual and tied off at the bin entrance.
• Lock it out. Locking and tagging the grain handling system prevents someone from unknowingly engaging the system while another person is in the bin.
• Is it fumigant-free? Check for warning placards from the owner of the grain, to make sure there isn’t a grain fumigant present in the bin that might harm someone entering.
• Run the bin aeration fans. If entry is made by a farmer or rescuer, running the air handling system provides a constant flow of fresh air into the confined space.
• Monitor for gas. Some type of portable gas monitoring device accompanying farmers or workers entering a grain bin could detect areas of low oxygen concentration caused by rotting grain.
• Trust your instincts. If something doesn’t look right or feel right about entering a bin, think and plan the procedure. Do not be complacent.
Complete burial in grain often ends in fatality. Hoffman says that there are three factors that affect the chances of surviving full engulfment in a bin.
“The longer the victim is buried in the grain, the less chance of survival they have,” he says. “Secondly, depth of burial affects the time the rescuers need to locate, expose and treat the victim prior to his complete extrication,” he says. “The final issue is training and preparation by the rescuing entity prior to the incident.”
Rescue workers like Hoffman want happy endings. “I can still hear the voice of the victim buried to his head level as he pleaded with us to get him out of the grain,” Hoffman says. But he made it out alive.
“We all rode an emotional high, because we were successful,” says Hoffman.
But almost as often, especially if the victim is alone and completely buried for a period of time, the ending is tragic. Hoffman says, “In the second case, we were all emotionally and physically drained when we arrived at the hospital, only to have our friend, family member and patient declared clinically dead.”
GRAIN BIN CAUTION: All appears peaceful around this grain bin in the late-afternoon sun, but that belies the dangers for Nebraska farmers posed by the stored grain inside the bin. It was a bad year for grain bin entrapments across the country in 2009.
This article published in the August, 2010 edition of NEBRASKA FARMER.
All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.