Workers in grain handling facilities are exposed to many serious and life-threatening hazards, including fires, falls, and amputations. Suffocation, however, is the leading cause of death in grain storage bins, occurring when an employee becomes engulfed or entrapped inside a bin.
Research by Purdue University’s Agricultural and Biological Engineering Department reveals an increase in the number of documented cases involving all types of agricultural confined spaces, including grain entrapments. In 2019, the 38 grain entrapment cases recorded represented a 26.7% increase from 2018, substantially higher than the five-year average of 28.8 cases per year. Of the total number of reported entrapment cases, 61% resulted in a fatality, a rate higher than the five-year average.
Engulfment can occur when a worker:
- Stands on moving or flowing grain, which acts like quicksand and buries the worker in seconds.
- Stands on or below “bridged” grain, which is grain that has clumped together creating an empty space beneath it as it is unloaded. This bridged grain can collapse under the worker’s weight.
- Stands next to a pile of grain that has accumulated on the side of the bin, which can unexpectedly collapse.
OSHA suggests following these seven steps to grain safety:
- Turn off and lockout equipment before entering bins or performing maintenance
- Never walk down grain to make it flow
- Place a trained observer outside of the bin in case of an emergency
- Test the air in the bin before entering
- Control the accumulation of grain dust through housekeeping
- Do not enter a bin where grain is built up on the side
- Use a safety harness and anchored lifeline
Stand Up 4 Grain Safety
Held each spring, Stand Up 4 Grain Safety week is a national effort that brings the ag industry together to focus, collectively, on safety. This week-long event is an excellent way to kick-off your ongoing grain safety efforts.
Every year hundreds of employees working in grain storage and handling are injured from preventable hazards. Contact the AssuredPartners Agribusiness team for resources to help you create a safety culture at your organization or visit https://standup4grainsafety.org/ for ideas on conducting your own stand up for safety event.