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Figure 1. Excellent tools for storing and marketing grain, grain bins can also be a significant safety hazard. Knowing the safety rules and adding proper signage around bins can help prevent tragedies.
Higher corn yields, leading to more stored grain, have resulted in an increasing number of grain bin accidents, injuries, and deaths. An estimated 55 percent of documented grain entrapments result in death. Many others leave victims with life-changing, permanent injuries. Every flowing grain entrapment is a preventable incident.
It Happens Fast! An average person stepping into a bin of grain will sink about a foot instantly. If the grain auger is removing grain from the bottom of the bin, the person can sink to his waist in 3 to 5 seconds. At that point, it is impossible to escape without assistance. Within 15 to 30 seconds, the whole body will be engulfed. Engulfment can happen even faster if a victim breaks through a surface crust or bridge and falls into moving grain, or if caked grain on bin walls falls and covers a victim.
How Do People Get Trapped? “Someone is in a hurry, trying to fill a grain truck when the grain stops flowing. They think ‘I’ve been in the bin 100 times before and nothing has happened,’” says Dan Neenan, Director, National Education Center for Agricultural Safety. “Without thinking, he climbs into the bin to get the grain flowing. If he breaks through a bridge or crusting, he drops into the loose grain below and stays trapped. Sometimes crusting is thick and heavy enough to knock a person unconscious. If the auger is running, the flowing grain will pull him deeper. He’s the heaviest thing in the bin, so he’s going to move down.” Neenan says.
Deaths and Injuries: Corn weighs about 50 pounds per cubic foot. “Once the legs are covered, there is tremendous pressure on the legs. If someone is wearing shorts, within 10 minutes the corn grains press into the skin. If the victim is taken out within 10 or 15 minutes, it can take more than an hour for the grain marks to work their way out of the skin,” Neenan says.
“With this extreme pressure, blood can’t flow, and gas exchanges can’t take place,” Neenan continues. “Once the victim is extracted, he may need surgery to relieve the swelling. Depending on how long he has been trapped and how long it takes to transport him for proper treatment he could easily lose his legs. In the best case, he’s facing a long and painful recovery. If the victim is submerged up to his chest or deeper, oxygen cannot be circulated to his heart, lungs, and brain,” Neenan says. “Once he’s submerged, the grain may get in his nose. When that happens, his natural reaction is to open his mouth. Once grain gets in the mouth and nose, moisture causes it to expand. That makes it impossible to breathe. Unless he is extracted immediately, he can’t survive.” Neenan cautions that grain bins are not the only places where injuries or death from flowing grain can occur. Grain trucks or wagons, and combine hoppers can also become death traps. Never allow anyone, especially children, to ride on a load of grain.
Additional Safety Tips:
To view an excellent video on grain bin safety, please view Growing Safely - Grain Bin Safety