Grain handling and storage plays a vital part in Missouri farming. However, today’s increased storage capacities combined with larger, faster handling and automated equipment contribute to the industry’s high level of hazard. Though new technologies have increased efficiency on the farm, the machinery gives farmers the ability to work alone—exposing them to additional dangerous situations.
Suffocation is the most prominent cause of grain bin fatalities. This is most commonly a result of grain drowning (engulfment or entrapment in grain bin) or exposure to Carbon Dioxide from fermented wet grain. Other risks include exposure to grain dust – leads to suffocation/explosions – or fumigants, which are extremely toxic to humans through inhalation, swallowing or skin absorption.
Table of Contents
Top Grain Tips
- Lockout unloading equipment before entering
- Do not enter bins alone or without an observer
- Wear a safety harness and secure a lifeline
- Wear a dust mask or respirator
- Attempt to break up grain without entering bins
- Take your time and use common sense
- Avoid loose-fitting or torn clothing while working with equipment
Grain Bin Safety
Farm Safety for Grain:
The topics below can help you formulate a safety plan.
- Never Enter Flowing Grain Bin
- Shut off/Secure Power Sources
- Avoid Carbon Dioxide
- Wear Dust Mask
- Correct Fumigation Procedures
- Equipment Guards
- Safety Equipment Installation
Never Enter Flowing Grain Bin
Suffocation is one of the most common causes of death involving grain bins. This occurs when someone enters a bin with flowing grain, and is pulled under and covered with grain. Many farmers underestimate the enormous force behind flowing grain. In the past three decades, more than 200 people have died from grain suffocation in the U.S. Standing on moving grain can be deadly; the grain works like quicksand to create suction that can bury a person in mere seconds. And nearly one-third of all people trapped in flowing grain are children. Do not enter bins while grain is being loaded or unloaded; wait until the dust clears so you can clearly see your footing before entering.
Shut off/Secure Power Sources
Be sure to turn off and lock out all power equipment associated with the grain, including the augers used to help move grain, when not in operation. Be especially aware of automatic unloading equipment and keep children away from operating grain augers at all times!
Avoid Carbon Dioxide
Grain fermentation produces carbon dioxide, a colorless, odorless gas. Grain bins often have an oxygen-deficient atmosphere. Working in a grain bin where carbon dioxide is present can be very harmful to your health. Once exposed, the carbon dioxide can get in your bloodstream and slow down your breathing, which can cause drowsiness, headaches, and even death by suffocation. To reduce the hazard, open all manholes and doors to force air through the bin before working inside.
Wear Dust Mask
Even a small amount of spoiled grain can produce millions of tiny mold spores which easily become airborne when disturbed. Airborne mold spores can be inhaled into the lungs through the nose and mouth, causing reactions so severe that sometimes hospitalization is necessary. Farmers working without respiratory protection inside a bin or other grain storage facility where moldy grain is present are especially vulnerable to mold and dust reactions.
Always wear a respirator capable of filtering fine dust particles. Avoid unnecessary exposure to mold because your tolerance may be reduced with each repeated exposure. Be sure to wear a mask that fits securely around the mouth and nose to protect you from grain dust and fungus in moldy grain.
Correct Fumigation Procedures
Fumigants are incredibly toxic to humans when swallowed, inhaled, or even absorbed through the skin. Be sure to follow all label recommendations when in use. It is necessary to use only masks and equipment that have been tested by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health when fumigating. Always run the ventilation fan before entering a bin to reduce the danger of the environment to your health. To ensure the safety of those in proximity of the bin, post warning signs telling people you are fumigating grain and to avoid the area.
Some producers choose a safer and more effective method and have their stored grain fumigated by a licensed, professional fumigator.
Equipment guards and shields create fewer opportunities for farmers and workers to become entangled in moving equipment parts. Removing equipment guards and not replacing them is a common cause of injury in farmers. When operating on machinery, be sure to replace all guards and shields when finished to reduce injury during loading/unloading processes.
It is extremely important to make sure there is a guard on a PTO-driven grain auger. Some PTO shafts can rotate at 540 revolutions per minute, which can cause extreme injury and even death. The power shaft that moves power to the top of the auger can cause the same injuries as a rotating PTO shaft. Always replace damaged or missing PTO and power shaft shields before operation.
Intake screens on augers help prevent hands and feet from getting caught between the auger screw and tube during operation. Today, most new augers are sold with intake screens in place. If you have an older machine that does not have an intake screen, add one, and be sure to replace missing or damaged screens.
Many grain augers operate on a belt or chain drive system. These belts and chains have two, or sometimes three, pinch points. A pinch point is where a belt or chain wraps onto a pulley or sprocket. If a finger or clothing item gets caught in a pinch point or the auger, it may result in severe injury, sometimes requiring amputation. Most of these systems do not come with shields, but can be easily fabricated for use.
Safety Equipment Installation
Grain augers become increasingly dangerous with each hour of use. It is important to continuously review the operator’s manual and examine all equipment parts to make sure the auger is in safe operating condition.
Before working in the bins, be sure to have all equipment in place in case of emergency. This includes full-body harnesses and life lines for easier worker rescue in case of a grain avalanche. This also includes installing rest platforms every 30 feet on vertical ladders on the outside of bins to reduce the risk of falls of those climbing the bins.
Strategically placing safety decals around the grain bins should alert workers to the possible dangers of flowing grain, crusted-over grain, and carbon dioxide.