Grain Bin Safety Tips and Tricks
By Grace Vehige, Contributing Writer
Source: Nebraska Cattleman Magazine
When it comes to farm injuries, we all know someone who has been affected. Maybe it was even you. One of the leading causes of farm-related injury or death is found in and around the grain bin.
“Most people know somebody who’s been impacted by [grain bin-related injuries]. So, thinking about that, I really like to emphasize the preparedness – being prepared for something, a clog to happen or for the unexpected to happen,” says Aaron Yoder, associate professor in the Department of Environmental, Agricultural and Occupational Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Yoder is also a Grain Handling Safety Coalition Board member, which only further exemplifies his passion and knowledge for grain bin safety. According to Yoder, preparedness is one of the top contending items for safety, though he notes it can be a bit of an oxymoron in this sense.
“We should be prepared for an auger to break. Be prepared for a belt to fall off an electric motor. Have a plan for how you’re going to fix that,” Yoder explains. “Because oftentimes, we make bad choices when we do things in the spur of a moment, when we’re in a rush and when we need to get things done.”
At the end of the day, however, in the “spur of the moment” is when an injury will likely take place.
‘It Won’t Happen to Me’
According to Yoder, one of the most serious injury events involving grain bins is having an individual engulfed. To avoid this, the grain bin safety expert suggests the following.
“We encourage people never to enter the grain bins at all, but there are some situations where it may be necessary. In that case, following the right procedures for doing that, especially in larger workplace environments where they have to have a written plan of how to enter an area like that, is necessary,” Yoder shares.
Even if you are working at a smaller site, having a plan in place is a strong tool for grain bin safety. Yoder suggests, at the minimum, shutting off all equipment and having an observer watch as you enter the grain bin, though tools like safety harnesses are also highly encouraged. While not everyone can afford expensive safety equipment, it is important to still have a plan in place to keep operators safe – especially when the job can come down to life and death.
“Some of [the suggested safety tools] are expensive equipment that many can’t afford to have on their own operations, but again, not having a plan in place to react quickly and prevent those engulfments from occurring is probably the largest hazard that we see,” Yoder says. “Of course, there’s all the other typical machinery hazards that are there with moving parts, but engulfment is the one that can be the most fatal.”
Safety Tips and Tricks
When it comes to general tips and tricks for grain bin safety, Yoder has a list of what he considers the dos and don’ts of grain bin operation. Of the things to consider, Yoder stresses the importance of not working alone, being prepared and having the right equipment on hand.
Yoder and his team previously developed the following list outlining four crucial grain bin safety tips:
Never enter a bin where there is evidence of crusting on the surface or within the grain mass. If grain has been removed from the structure and the surface has not flowed toward the outlet, stay out.
If there is any sign that the grain is going out of condition, or has already done so, it needs to be moved immediately.
Perform all observations or unplugging efforts from outside the bin, at the top access hatch. Watch for overhead power lines when handling long probes.
If the grain has become crusted or the floor outlets become plugged, preventing grain removal according to the bin manufacturer’s recommendations, contact a professional grain salvage service that has the experience and equipment to break up and remove out-of-condition grain.
It is also beneficial for farmers and ranchers to receive grain bin safety training.
“We all think that if we’ve done something for a long time, we know exactly how to do it, but we can still learn from others and assist in training new employees,” Yoder says. “So, if we have somebody who’s not as familiar with the systems that we’re working with, making sure they’re trained appropriately and not afraid to ask questions is crucial.”
One of the training programs Yoder is involved with is the Feedlot 15 Program, which includes modules on feed safety and grain bin handling safety. According to Yoder, it emphasizes training yourself so you can not only be more aware of your operational safety but also encourage others to improve their safety procedures as well.
“This program is useful so if an incident does happen, the worker knows what to do. They know not to just dive in and try to tackle it themselves and to actually ask for help,” Yoder explains about Feedlot 15. “It gets other people to think about it. They all say two heads are better than one, for the most part. Thinking about what we do before we jump into the task, especially one that’s not a normal task, can help prevent some of those injuries as well.”
When you think about it, the systems many farmers and ranchers use for grain handling have been around for a long time. In terms of technological advancement in the grain-handling realm, there have been few attempts at long-term safety solutions. However, that does not mean there is not potential for the future.
“I think there are lots of opportunities for technology to improve our safety, both in the grain quality side and the handling side,” Yoder says.
Often, new technologies can be a great way to improve safety standards. When considering Yoder’s point that most grain bin-related accidents are a result of engulfment, investing in new technology may be worth considering.
Coincidentally, Chad and Ben Johnson, a Nebraska father-son duo, have been working on an innovation called the Grain Weevil, which is a grain bin management robot. Its purpose? Reduce injuries.
Chad explains that the initial focus of the robot was for it to do the tasks that are most dangerous for a farmer, and that is to go into a grain bin. However, the team quickly realized the robot could do tasks to help maintain grain quality, which research shows to be the No. 1 safety aspect of having a grain bin in the first place.
“The higher the quality of your grain, the less likely you are to have to get in the bin and end up having an accident,” Chad says. “So, our robot actually can help manage the quality of grain from start to finish.”
While the grain bin management robot is still under development, the team shares their end goal: “We want this tool to be an easy choice over picking up the shovel, climbing up the ladder, and hopping in. It has to be easier to use than that because we need people to stay out of the bins. That’s the entire reason we’re doing this,” Ben says.
For more information about Grain Weevil, visit www.grainweevil.com. On the alternative, if you are worried about the cost of investing in a product like this, just remember – you cannot put a price on safety.
“If we think [grain bin-related injuries] don’t happen, it is going to happen to us,” Yoder says. “We know from statistics that they do happen quite often. So, trying to balance out what’s the cost savings from [investing in safety tools] is almost like a risk management technique.”