Four fire departments received the call late at night. On Oct. 3 in Keithsburg, Illinois, a local farmer became trapped in the silo after monitoring his grain. Firefighters spent the next hour working to free him, but unfortunately, the man suffocated before rescue came. It’s a problem happening all over the country, as more than a dozen people have died in silo-related accidents over the last three months alone. Let’s make grain bin safety a priority this harvest season.
In one Ohio case, workers were breaking up compacted grain when they came across an air pocket. The pocket collapsed and acted like quicksand, trapping and eventually killing the men. It’s not just a problem with where you walk. There have been multiple cases this year where simply breathing in dust from the grain bin caused lung problems for farmers and even caused several deaths.
These grain bin safety incidents show that monitoring grain can be dangerous, but with the right methods, you can avoid risk. Let’s take a look at multiple ways to protect yourself while monitoring your grain.
Stay Outside the Bin
Don’t go inside the bin. That sounds like something you’d hear in a horror movie, but it applies here as well. Unless absolutely necessary, it’s not a good idea to check your grain from inside the bin. This isn’t just a random suggestion. If a person falls inside the bin and gets pulled into the grain above their knees, they can’t get out on their own, as we explain here. The pressure of the grain on their legs and the grain flowing down make movement impossible.
The Illinois University Extension Office offers several alternatives for farmers regarding grain bin safety. Use a long pole, for example, to break up crusted grain from outside the bin. One word of caution, however. If you use a long pole, make sure it doesn’t come close to any electrical lines. It seems simple, but multiple farmers died this year after their pole touched a power line.
As soon as the auger or pole touches the line, electricity flows through and hits the farmer. To solve this problem, just lower the pole before transporting it and follow National Electrical Safety Code recommendations. That means keeping all overhead electric lines a minimum of 18 feet above the highest port of the bin. You can also use a Hydra Shovel or any other self-contained auger to work on the bins without stepping inside. These types of augers automatically extend to find the outer bin wall, handling any bins up to 22 feet in diameter.
Protect Yourself from Dust and Mold
Grain fines and dust can be just as much of a problem as air pockets in the bin, as farmers run the risk of permanent damage. Dust in the bins from grain or moldy forage, according to the National Agriculture Safety Database, carry antigens that can cause severe irritation to the respiratory tract. When you breathe in this material over a long period of time, it causes your lungs to harden and become inelastic. They don’t expand as easily, making it harder to draw deep breaths, or do any type of harder physical activity. Because grain bins are often sealed off and enclosed, they’re a perfect place for this type of dust to settle.
To stop moldy dust from building up, you need to keep areas free of moisture. The best way to keep grain dry, cool, and mold-free is with grain temperature monitoring. But, there may be times when grain has not yet completely dried, so you need to take precautions when working in the grain bin. Use disposable dust masks or a respirator designed to filter dust out. Be sure to change the mask out or any cartridge in the respirator in order to keep bacteria out.
The Ag Safety Database cautions however that while “filter masks may provide adequate protection from common agricultural molds, dusts, and chaffs, they will not protect the wearer from agricultural gases.” To solve that problem, Database officials suggest that farmers use a self-contained breathing apparatus, much like the one worn by firefighters, when they’re working in grain bins.
Monitor Grain in Bins Remotely
When monitoring and cleaning from outside doesn’t work, there’s a remote option to consider before climbing inside. Temperature cables are set up inside your grain bins. They collect data from each of your storage bins and send it to a sensor board. When the sensor board gets the data, it’s sent to a server. You can then use a smartphone or computer to log in at any point and see the data. If it’s snowing outside, you can just grab your phone to check your grain temperatures.
You also minimize common grain bin safety risks at your bin sites with remote grain monitoring. The remote system also provides data from previous weeks and months to compare. You can monitor changes in grain condition historically, and do it with greater accuracy. Knowing the temperature in real time can help you prevent grain shrinkage from overdrying, or mold from too much moisture. You’ll know when to turn fans on or off, establishing ideal storage conditions and preventing over-aeration in the silo.
More than that, remote monitoring offers a number of other benefits. You can access temperature information in real time, just like you were in the bin itself. The information also comes in easy-to-read real time charts and historical graphs, provided whenever you want. You can take readings four times a day, every 30 minutes, or on demand, for example. There are also fan control options that work in concert with temperature monitoring. Therefore, you can turn fans on/off remotely according to grain temperature.
Grain Bin Safety Measures Inside the Bin
The best time to work inside your grain bins is – never. But there are some safety precautions you can take to avoid problems if you do enter your bins. First, be sure to shut off any augers or unloaders. That way nobody can accidentally start up the equipment when you’re in the bin. Second, wear a harness when you’re inside. If you get stuck, the harness will keep you from being pulled under until you get rescued. For anyone who doesn’t use a harness, be sure to walk near the bin’s outer wall. If the grain starts to flow, you can get to the bin ladder easier or simply hold on to the wall for safety. Finally, Database officials ask farmers not to go into the bin without someone else nearby. In fact, they recommend having two people nearby who are trained both in rescue procedures and know the safe ways to enter a confined space.