Prevent grain-bin suffocation with precautionary measures
ST. PAUL -- Wet soil conditions in certain areas of Minnesota may create a harvest rush, which can lead to increased grain-bin drownings -- when a person is pulled under the grain's surface in a matter of seconds and risks suffocation.
Today's large grain augers can transfer from two to four times as much grain as augers of the past. Your body can become completely submerged in about 8 seconds, leaving you helpless.
Crusted, spoiled and wet grain associated with this year's wet harvest -- as well as remaining grain from last year's wetter harvest -- can also contribute to grain bin suffocation. As grain is removed from the bin it can bridge and form a cavity under the crusted surface. There's little chance of survival if you are walking on the surface when the crust breaks and you plunge into flowing or hot grain.
The following are reminders and safety measures to practice while working around grain:
- Keep children out of grain bins, beds and wagons at all times. Grain flow can cover them before anyone realizes what is happening.
- Lock out the control circuit before entering a bin, whether or not grain is flowing. Be especially careful around automatic unloading equipment.
- Have three people involved when you enter a grain bin, and enter with a rope and safety harness. In the case of an accident, it will take two people to lift you out using the equipment.
- Don't count on someone outside the bin to hear your shouted instructions. Equipment noise may block out your calls for help.
- If you become trapped in a bin of flowing grain with nothing to hold onto but you are still able to walk, stay near the outside wall. Keep walking until the bin is empty or grain flow stops. If you are covered by flowing grain, cup your hands over your mouth, and take short breaths until help arrives.
- If another person becomes submerged in grain, assume he is alive and begin rescue operations immediately. Turn on the fan to move air into the bin. Cut large holes around the bin, approximately 5 feet up from the base, to empty grain. (If you cut too many holes, the bin may collapse on you.) Use the front-end loader of a tractor, an abrasive saw, or an air chisel. A cutting torch is a last resort -- it could cause a fire or an explosion from dust and fumigant residue.
- Never attempt a rescue by going into the grain yourself. Call 911. Your local emergency team has the training and equipment to do the job safely.
Tesmer is an educator in agricultural production systems with University of Minnesota Extension. Some information came from David E. Baker, Department of Agricultural Engineering, University of Missouri Extension.