Don't become another grain bin entrapment statistic. As late winter turns to early spring, farmers are busy marketing and hauling grain. Landon Grothe, a paramedic and firefighter with the Norfolk Fire Division, told a group of farmers at the Northeast Nebraska Farm and Equipment Show recently that bigger grain bins and faster grain handling systems on modern farms make entering a grain bin more dangerous than ever.
With volatile grain prices, grain is being stored more often and for longer periods, in hopes of capturing top dollar, Grothe said. If grain condition deteriorates and there are problems with wet, crusted or moldy grain, it can be a recipe for disaster, especially for farmers who are working alone.
Entrapment often happens when a worker enters a bin while grain is being unloaded, Grothe said. Sometimes, workers enter a bin to push crusted or moldy corn into the unloading auger, but huge chunks of grain can break away under these conditions and consume a worker or fall on them.
In 2010 alone, there were 52 deaths nationwide due to grain entrapment that resulted in 25 deaths, said Grothe. "And you don't hear about the close calls," he said.
Flowing grain is the most common cause of entrapment, he said. A worker who becomes engulfed can suffocate in a matter of minutes under the grain, or grain will compress against their chest, not allowing them to breathe properly.
He said farmers should never allow children around bins when they are moving grain. Grothe also advised never to enter a bin when a person is alone or when grain is being unloaded. He said the "buddy system" with one person inside and another outside of the bin monitoring the situation is always best. Be sure to shut off all power to the bin, so there is no chance of grain handling equipment being engaged while a person is inside. Farmers should take their cell phones with them inside a bin. "Cell phones have saved lives," Grothe said.
Workers should also use a harness and rope suspended from the center of the bin when entering, so they have a way out. "You don't need an expensive harness," he said. "But you do need a good piece of rope."
Taking simple, common sense precautions and being careful around grain handling systems and grain bins saves lives on the farm, said Grothe.
If you'd like more information on grain bin safety, contact the Norfolk Fire Division at 402-844-2050.