Grain Bin Safety

How it Happens:

People can become caught or trapped in grain in three different ways:

  1. The collapse of bridged (crusted) grain
  2. The collapse of a vertical wall of grain
  3. Entrapment in flowing grain

Moving or flowing grain is involved in all three, people who work with grain; loading it, unloading it and moving it from bin to bin need to know about the hazards of flowing grain and how to prevent a grain entrapment situation.


Collapse of Bridged Grain
Grain can become bridged when it is moldy, high in moisture, or in poor condition. The kernels stick together and form a crust, which may be self-supporting. This gives a false indication that it is safe to stand on the surface of the grain. The worker cannot tell if there is grain under the crust or not.

Collapse of a Vertical Mass of Grain
Grain can "set up" in a large mass against the bin wall or in various formations when it has been stored while in poor condition. The mass of grain can collapse and "avalanche" down on workers who attempt to break it loose with shovels or other objects. There will be no warning when it breaks loose and cascades down. The impact will knock workers off their feet, burying them in various positions. Individuals working in the bin can be buried almost instantly.

Flowing Grain
Flowing grain will not support the weight of a person. It will pull a person down and into the grain mass as it flows. The "suction" action is strong enough that a person cannot "swim," climb, or walk against it and get out. As grain flows out of a bin the victim will be pulled down and under very quickly with little time to react. A person cannot be pulled from flowing grain without risk of injury to the spinal column if the grain is at waist level or higher. The grain will have a very strong grip on the body. Research has shown that up to 400 lbs. of pull is required to extract a body from waist-deep grain. That is more than enough force to permanently damage someone's spinal column.

Rescue Procedures

  1. Shut off all grain-moving machinery. Stop the flow of grain.
  2. Contact the emergency rescue service or local fire department.
  3. Ventilate the bin using the drying fan without activating the heat source.
  4. Work in such a way that additional grain pressure is not exerted on the victim.
  5. Protect the rescue workers; be sure the power to the auger is locked out, and use safety lines and respiratory protection or support.
  6. Make a retaining wall if the grain is above the victim's head. Form retaining walls with plywood, sheet metal, or snow fence and tarps to keep grain from flowing to the victim.
  7. Remove grain from around the victim using shovels and a grain vacuum conveyor. Use extreme care when victim is not visible.
  8. Cut holes in bin sides to drain grain away from the victim if the person is completely submerged. Cut at least two V-shaped or U-shaped holes on opposite sides, or more holes equally spaced around the bin, using a cutting torch, metal-cutting power saw, or air chisel.
  9. Apply care to the victim as soon as possible, providing breathing assistance, maintenance of body temperature, and emotional support. PLAN AHEAD FOR VICTIM REMOVAL PROCEDURES.
  10. DON'T GIVE UP when conditions appear to be grim. People have survived submersion in grain for up to TWO HOURS; sometimes the victim can still breathe while buried in the grain. NEVER GIVE UP


Safety Precautions

  1. Children should not be permitted to work or play in an area where there is flowing grain. It is an attractive nuisance and is dangerous to people of all ages, especially children.
  2. All workers involved in situations where there is flowing grain should be warned to stay out of the grain.
  3. Warning decals should be placed at all bin entrances; truck and trailer boxes used for grain hauling and on all gravity discharge wagons.
  4. Never enter a grain bin without stopping the auger first and then using "lock-out/tag-out" procedures to secure it. Use a key type of padlock to securely lock the auger switch in the off position. Attach a tag to the locked switch so that other people involved can positively identify the switch.
  5. If you must enter a grain bin, never enter alone; have at least two people at the bin to assist in case problems arise. Use a safety harness or safety line when entering the bin.
  6. Install a permanent rope handing from the center of the bin for a person to grab on to. Tie slip reducing knots about one foot apart along the rope. A rope in a grain bin does not make it safe to enter the bin and should not lead workers to taking undue risks because of a false sense of security. Rope or Life-lines are commercially available through safety equipment retailers.
  7. Control the access to grain storage facilities to prevent grain entrapments.
  8. Break up crusted grain from the outside of the bin with a long pole. When using a pole, check to see that it doesn't come into contact with electric lines.
  9. Ladders should be installed inside grain bins for an emergency exit. Ladders are easier to locate inside a dusty bin if they are brightly painted stripes just above or behind the ladder.
  10. Stay near the outer wall of the bin and keep walking if the grain should start to flow, get to the bin ladder or safety rope as quickly as possible.
  11. Grain dust may cause difficulty in breathing, anyone working in a grain bin, especially for the purpose of cleaning the bin, should wear an appropriate dust filter or filter respirator.
  12. To prevent grain bin accidents store grain in good condition, which also prevents spoilage, which means more money in your pocket.


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