Grain bin safety is a top-of-mind focus for corn farmers year-round, whether it is during the long hours of harvest or now when one may need to loosen up frozen corn. Regardless, it is a farm duty that comes with major risks.
Bridged grain prevents grain flow, hiding pockets of air in the grain, and farmers trying to break up bridged grain can quickly fall through due to the instability. Grain being emptied from the bin acts like quicksand with the ability to engulf in seconds and suffocate—the leading cause of death in storage bins. Grain harvested during a wet autumn is especially susceptible to bridging and caking.
With that, the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry recommends, if at all possible, farmers avoid entering a storage bin, first trying to break up the grain from outside the bin. Farmers can also retrofit their bin with equipment capable of breaking up bridges and clumps.
If a farmer must enter the bin, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration strongly advises never standing on top of the stored grain or entering from the bottom of the unit when there is grain caked to the sides or bridged overhead. It is also vital to first stop the flow of grain and shut down loading/unloading equipment that is in operation before entering. Wearing a safety harness can also be a life-saving precautionary measure in case of a fall. Turning on ventilation equipment is important as harmful gases often build up in grain bins.
Finally, OSHA recommends having a trained observer while unloading a grain bin who can act quickly in case a hazard occurs.
For more information on grain handling safety from the MN Department of Labor and Industry, click here.