Post written by David W. Yeager, ALCM
Grain engulfment, or entrapment, kills dozens of American farm workers each year. And perhaps the ultimate tragedy is how easily this hazard can be avoided.
Individuals become engulfed in grain bins when unstable grain shifts, creating an unsteady surface for walking or standing farm workers. If the surface gives way, the victim can sink in and under the grain in seconds.
Because flowing grain acts like quicksand, even if a worker isn’t fully submerged, the grain can pose a danger. Grain can quickly trap the chest and exert enough pressure on the diaphragm to impact breathing until suffocation occurs.
Here are some precautions you can take to prevent life-threatening grain bin accidents from occurring.
Always wear a harness
This safety tool should be mandatory on your farm, and all workers need the proper training on how and when to wear one.
Make grain bin work at least a two-person job
A harness is of little use if there’s no one there to haul up a victim who is engulfed. Make sure you always have second worker stationed outside of the bin who can pull out another worker if necessary. If you have the staff available, consider providing a third person on grain bin duty – giving you two people to assist if an accident occurs.
Beware of shallow or ‘empty’ bins
Workers can become overconfident when the risk of engulfment appears low. But grain can stick to the sides of bins and fall as a result of the vibration of workers’ footsteps, quickly trapping workers beneath. In addition, even empty bins can have enough fine dust and particulate in the air to constrict breathing in the enclosed space.
Be cautious of crusted grain
Bridging is the term for grain and other grain bin content that appear to be frozen in the winter. When this occurs, farm workers may feel confident enough to walk across the crust. However, voids in the crust can break – just like cracks on a frozen pond. When the crust gives way, workers may be submerged in grain before they have time to react.
Keep children away from grain bins
Grain bins and gravity wagons must be off limits to children. Make sure kids understand that bins aren’t playgrounds, and consider marking grain bin areas with signage to indicate they are off limits to non-workers.
The best practice for everyone is to stay out of grain bins. But when bins must cleaned or maintained, make sure staff is taking every safety precaution possible. Exercising caution and applying these common-sense steps can help ensure you and your workers won’t experience the tragedy of a grain engulfment.
Do you have additional safety tips to pass along? If so, post them in the Comments section below.
For more information about the risks associated with grain engulfment and how to protect your workers, contact your local independent insurance agent. For a list of independent agents in your area, click here.