Working in or around a grain bin exposes farmers and storage workers to serious and life threatening hazards, including fires and explosions caused by grain bin dust accumulation, suffocation from engulfment and entrapment, and crushing injuries and even amputations from grain handling equipment.

Accidents associated with grain bins are nothing new. According to researchers at Purdue University, more than 900 cases of grain engulfment have been reported with a fatality rate of 62 percent over the past 50 years. In 2014, as of mid-March, two fatalities and at least two serious injuries have resulted across the nation from grain bin mishaps.

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In addition to engulfment, grain bin mishaps also include the risks of exposure to toxic fumigants, potential for unexpected fires and the threat of explosions caused by the build-up of combustible grain dust.

Grain bin safety and the dangers associated with engulfment and entrapment were the central theme of a special Coastal Bend Grain Storage and Handlers Safety Conference at the San Patricio County Fairgrounds Civic Center in Sinton April 23.

Texas AgriLife Extension specialist David Smith, one of the conference presenters, told producers that a growing percentage of engulfment cases come from facilities that are exempt from Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations.

"One thing we need to be aware of is just how quickly a man can be trapped in flowing grain. As one example, if the auger is moving grain at 68 bushels per minute, with a six foot tall man weighing 165 pounds standing inside the bin, it only takes about five seconds before he gets trapped. After about 25 seconds, he would be completely engulfed," Smith warned.

 

 

He said most incidents occur when grain is being moved or transported and someone enters a bin to walk down the moving grain or is buried by falling grain that was bridged to the walls and suddenly collapsed. Smith said moving grain acts like quicksand and can bury a worker in seconds. In addition, grain that is too wet or in poor condition can cause pockets to form and these can collapse beneath a worker as he walks across the grain.

"Once they are stuck, the behavior and weight of the grain make it extremely difficult for a worker to get out of it without assistance. Even with assistance, it can be a monumental undertaking," Smith explained.